A-Z, A Writing Exercise

So, interestingly enough, a recent heartbreak/breakup has inspired me to start writing more. Everything can become a story, and in this way we can process deep pain and turn it into art. As writers, we store away story ideas and sometimes find them later. This is what happened to me today, as I was wandering around in the computer files and opened a folder full of little bits and starts that I had forgotten about. I came upon this writing exercise, and did not even get it until I got to the end. Using every letter of the alphabet, create a short story with a sentence starting with each letter, in order.

Coiincidentally, this story was about a breakup I had roughly seven years ago, thus lending me a bit of perspective on my currently mangled heart.

And here it is, A – Z:

And this is what I wanted.  But it is not how I thought it would feel.  Can it really be the end?  Dreaming of you nonstop, your hands on my hips, your succulent full lips and eyes of two colors, cheeks with the scarred ghost of adolescent acne that you hate and I love, your voice that ranges from dusky baritones when you whisper to me in bed to high and squeaky when animated in conversation; all this I can’t seem to live without. Even the things that annoyed me I now miss.  For example, your inability to see a mirror or even window- any reflective surface – without preening.  God, you are such a peacock. How about your change in personality when your daughter wants anything at all?  Idiotic.  Just buy her a tiara and a castle and get it over with.

Keep it as is, you begged.  Like I could not want more?  Many tears were shed in those months, the dream that I can’t forget:  we study a map together.  Negotiating.  Odd detail of a protractor, the pointy part stuck down on your town, and the tiny pencil drawing a circle around it.  Perhaps I could move to one of these towns, still have you, but stay out of your inner circle. Quite ridiculous.  Ridiculously sad.

So I strayed in the end, with someone who – amazingly – showed interest in me, the rejected woman. Took this young beautiful man to my bed.  Unaware that somehow, across the distance,  you would know.  Very surprised and touched that you cried.  Weeks before our planned breakup date.  Extraneous,  just slightly out of the scheduled order.  You now feel that was why we ended, and I feel cheated by the way you’ve twisted things around.  You get to feel righteous.  Zen moment for me.

 

 

 

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A Lesson From Heartbreak

Sometimes, love swoops down on you like a beautiful bird.  And sometimes it is a vulture, eager to rip out your heart.

People say you should be open to love, to believe in it.

But love can be a liar.

Things that seem too good to be true can seem that way because they are not really true.

What someone else does to you can make you believe that you were never really worth it, that the tiny voices in your head that have always told you that no one could possibly love you were right. That somehow you are the broken person that you forgot about for a while during a whirlwind dance with the devil. And now, suddenly you remember. You feel like a fool, like an idiot.

But maybe, just maybe, what someone else does to manipulate your feelings happened to make you remember you still have feelings. Maybe there is strength and resilience within you that can take the lessons to be learned and walk away a changed person with scars that don’t destroy you, but enhance the beauty that was always there.

And maybe someone, somewhere, someday really can love you.

Or maybe not.

But you cannot control other people, only yourself. So you pick your shaky self up off the ground and remember that you can love yourself better than any other person on the planet. And if that’s all you get, then that’s all you need.

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GOODBYE, 2016, AND DON’T LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE ASS

OMG, 2016 was a Hellacious year. My head is still spinning.  We lost Bowie, Prince, and Alan Rickman in one fell swoop. My mentor had her house burglarized and her possessions and money from a safe stolen. On a personal level, I lost my brother in June, my heart in July, a co-worker tried her best to jeopardize my job in December, and let us not forget that the entire country lost its freaking MIND in November! (Which is why I hesitate to welcome 2017.)

Sometimes it seems that the Universe is trying to tell us something. I won’t get all politicky here, because that is so not my area of expertise, but things needed to shift in the USA, people are restless (and apparently restlessness spawns idiocy)and we are due for a shake-up. I am trying to remain open to change while I calm my scared-rabbit terrified heart.

When people don’t pay enough attention, weird things happen. I could have paid more attention to my brother and intervened sooner. Not sure what I personally could have done to save Bowie and Alan (who both died of cancer, and cancer just plain sucks!) but maybe someone should have been paying more attention to my friend Prince. (And this just in: George Michael has also passed on today! When will it end?)

I could have paid more attention to my grumbling co-worker and nipped that dissension in the bud before it went all the way to the top. All of us could have paid more attention last year to the disgruntlement of our American brothers and sisters who felt so disenfranchised that they had to make a bold statement, electing the least presidential president the USA has ever seen (an orange-faced buffoon of a reality star.) Life gets scary when we are not paying attention.

So as 2017 approaches, let’s greet the New Year with cautious optimism. Let’s support each other in the spirit of love and compassion. Let’s not turn a blind eye to those who are in need, and if we ourselves are in need, let’s learn to ask for help. We need to lift up those who are struggling, share love with those who are lonely, and reassure those who are afraid.

As Betty Davis said, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!” (She actually said “bumpy night” but we are in for more than just one night of bumps, sadly.) And as Myrna Greenbaum said in Red Desert Penitentiary, “Are these holes or bumps?” Well, there may be some of each, and we will need to be relaxed enough that they won’t break our spines.

As a people, we need to come together and realize that we are all in this together. It’s not about black/white, right/left, rich/poor. It’s One Love.

I cautiously welcome 2017 and do so with all the positive intent and hope that I can muster. Along with a promise that I will pay attention to my surroundings, speak up when things are not ok, and definitely not become complacent. I do care what happens. And I feel a responsibility for contributing in a positive way, more strongly than ever, so that the negativity in our lives will be chased away by the sunshine. I know it might sound a little naïve and simplistic, but this is my strategy for 2017.It’s the best I can offer.

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HOW TO AVOID GETTING HURT IN A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP

You can’t.

The end.

Just kidding!

I’ve been puzzling through this lately, as I have recently fallen in love again. Or perhaps for the first time. Every time is different; every time feels new. I’m equal parts ecstatic and terrified.

The biggest problem is how afraid I am. I am afraid to love as fully as I know I am capable of. I’m afraid that the things that have happened before (betrayal, falling out of love, monotony) will happen again. I’m afraid it won’t be what it is supposed to be. And I’m afraid that I have such a cool single life -with travel, independence, and yes,  a little bit of loneliness thrown in, but it’s a trade-off, right?– that I might not want to give it up to be in a couple again.

Let’s face it, relationships are not always what we conceive them to be in the beginning. It’s hard. It’s brutal. It’s disappointing. Even if we dodge the marital bullet and end up in a long relationship, it’s all of those things. Just easier to extract ourselves from. At least, physically. Not emotionally. (Believe me, I learned that the hard way.)

Mostly I’m afraid of the kind of hurt that comes at the end of things when you have loved fiercely and lost it all in the end. The kind of pain that leaves you reeling, sobbing, begging the heavens for another chance while you know deep in your heart that it ended the way it was supposed to. That you learned another lesson. That once again you were with the wrong person, or that the person you were with was not necessarily “wrong”, but not the person you were meant to be with forever.

And then again, what is forever? Can we really promise each other that, in all honesty?

So I feel the need to go into this with caution and also blindly. To trust and to doubt. To risk it all while drafting an iron-clad pre-nup.

For we never really know, do we?

I talked to a friend the other day who has gone through many romantic relationships and never married. Our mutual friend with three young children was lamenting that she and her husband never had sex anymore. My friend said, “I don’t want to be that! The couple that never has sex? Isn’t it better to go from one romance to the next, learning and growing and feeling all the feels?”

Well, yes. I think so, anyway. But I don’t fall in love that easily, and so the feels don’t come that often. After a long dry spell, it’s good to be feeling them again, no matter how fearful I am.

So maybe I don’t know how not to get hurt. And maybe I still don’t even know what love is. I think I knew this more resolutely at age 16 than I do today! But the willingness to risk your heart when you think it’s love is a foolish and admirable thing. It’s what all the books, movies, and songs are about. It’s part of what makes us human.

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Why I Did A Boudoir Photo Shoot – as a Senior Citizen!

OK, maybe I exaggerated slightly on the senior citizen part. I’m 53. And a half. But who’s counting? I’m a yoga teacher and an early childhood teacher. I’m blonde and curvy, with some attributes I’m proud of, and others I am not. Like most women in our culture, I have some major body issues. I spend more time covering it up than flaunting it.

So why did I do it? Was it a desperate last grasp at my fading youth? Was it a joyful affirmation that women of any age can be beautiful and sexy? Or was it merely the fact that I got a Living Social coupon and it was about to expire?

Whatever the reason, when I realized the coupon was about to expire (drat! I just outed myself as a Living Social addict!) I called and made my appointment:

Me: I’m an older lady, I’m not really interested in wearing lingerie.

Her: That’s fine, just wear whatever makes you feel beautiful.

Me: Maybe I just want to wear yoga clothes and do some yoga shots. I don’t need all that sexy stuff.

Her: Whatever makes you feel good.

Me: (fuming at her lack of resistance against my resistance) well, maybe I will go through my lingerie and just see…

I realized, while looking through my “unmentionables” that they were really more unmentionable than they should be: sports bras promoting the “uniboob” and torn, stained Granny Panties. Even in my defensive mode, my undies were sub-par. So I went shopping and bought a few things, just enough to make me feel “beautiful”.

And I arrived with two suitcases of options (which the photographer, Lanette, told me was not excessive) and got ready to shoot. I was hella nervous. But I shouldn’t have been. It was a blast. I had scribbled down a few flattering poses in case she didn’t have ideas for me. I mean, it’s easy to photograph sexy young women and make them look good; it’s an entirely different matter to photograph an old broad trying to fight the cruel tides of time. But she knew what to do, how to arrange me, and promised she had a “smoothing brush” that she would use on the finished pictures.

As she looked through the viewfinder, she made a “grrrr” purring noise. Did I really look good? I began to relax, throwing back my head on the couch, crossing my legs in a classic pinup look, looking at the camera through my mascaraed lashes with a Mona Lisa smile on my lips.

We went through a dozen outfits. At one point, I wanted a shot in my jeans. She said “Yes, just jeans and a hand bra!”

“Oh, I didn’t bring a hand bra.” (what the hell was that, anyway?)

She smiled and cupped her hands over her chest to show me. Oh. That.

And a week later, we did a phone session where we went through the shots. I didn’t love them all, but I liked more than I had expected. A few hundred dollars later, I had my beauty shots.

Thinking back on the experience, I have to wonder: what had really motivated me? Was it vanity? Did I need to prove something to myself? Maybe. Or maybe I was just supporting a local business. Whatever the reason, I’m not sorry I did it. Women need to know they are lovely, because we are. And if it needs to fit within the cultural constraints that we are forced to live with, so be it. All I know is that Lanette was right; I did feel beautiful.

If you are considering doing a boudoir shoot of your own, here are a few tips:

  • Be relaxed. For me, this meant a glass of champagne before I showed up.
  • Trust your photographer; if they do this for a business, chances are they know what they’re doing.
  • Feel free to guide the direction of the shoot. Get as naked or non-naked as you feel comfortable with.
  • If you want to buy the digital rights to your shots, or even just some prints, it will be pricey. But it might be worth it.

And most of all, have fun and let your inner beauty shine through!catherine-maxwell141

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Jamaica

You went a little mad in Jamaica.

When your friends dragged you to the beach party you saw him standing at the edge of the crowd, skin like melted chocolate, hair like snakes hanging down past his shoulders. Too gorgeous to be yours. It was enough to just steal multiple glances. Emboldened by strong rum drinks, the thick night air, and the whisper of the Caribbean, you strolled over to gaze at the sea, brushing his arm with yours. Later, when he told the story to his friends in his musical voice, he claimed you stood there for twenty minutes before he had the nerve to say hello, but it felt to you like just a suspended moment. It could have been seconds. It could have been hours.

He found you on the beach the next morning. He brought you a coconut and mangoes from his tree. You held hands on the beach and swam in the salty sea together, where he told you in a solemn voice, “I am not a one night stand.” He came with the clothes on his back and he stayed the entire week, never leaving your side.

Falling into his arms was a freefall. When he released his cascade of dreadlocks, hovering naked above you, they rained down like a thunderstorm, obliterating your view of anything but him, his beautiful lips, his piercing eyes. He was a lion, devouring your body and your sanity. His heartbeat was a drumbeat you had no choice but to dance to.

He took you to a magical treehouse, deep in the bush. Real Rasta land, he called it. His home. He picked a breadfruit from a tree and chopped wood with a machete to roast it. You fed each other the warm meaty meal with your hands. You lay in his arms under a mosquito net that felt like a princess canopy as a sultry breeze blew through the window and your mind whispered, “What if it could really be like this?”

You dared to dream, to let all the differences – age, culture, geography – fall aside, just for a mad moment in time. What if this were something real?

He told you that you felt like home to him, and you believed it. He couldn’t look at you with that intense unwavering gaze and be anything but honest. He told you he was the river and you were the sea; he flowed into you. His voice was like a song, a cadence of lyrics you hardly understood. He spoke your name like no one else and possessed you so fully that you belonged only to him. You professed your love to him before you could even pronounce his name, and the promise echoed in your heart as crystalline truth.

Soon enough it was time for it to end. Goodbyes were said at the airport. The tears washed your cheeks all the way home. Back home where you pictured him everywhere, and all of the pictures were absurd like an abstract painting trying to show the shape of something that didn’t exist.

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Eric

The sun streams through the window, and I stir from a dark, dreamless sleep. I feel the warmth of my dogs by my side, hear the low whistle of the distant train. For a small moment, the day feels normal; a warm summer morning.

Then I remember and my heart shatters anew.

I lost my brother Eric Sunday morning. My life will never be the same. He’s always been in my life. He was there, singing funny songs on my voicemail, being the generous uncle to my daughters, scratching a dog behind the ears, playing his classic rock way too loud. And now he is gone.

I won’t be able to call him when I’m in need; when he was always there for me to fix a broken house, a broken promise, a broken heart. “Do you need me to come out there, Katie?” he would ask.

My brother was a true character. He bartended at the Green Parrot, a favorite local’s bar in Key West. His dog ran for mayor of Key West one year, and he had t-shirts made up: Jeremiah – Integrity. He fired a starter’s cannon off the balcony of his house during an annual festival, and they came and arrested him. The next year he was officially invited to start the festival by firing that same cannon. He was that kind of guy. He could piss you off and then disarm you. Even when he was exasperating, people loved him.

He was the first person I smoked pot with. I had crushes on all his friends in high school. (I later married – and divorced- one of Eric’s friends.) He was my cool big brother who played trombone, was on the wrestling team, and drove the red Roadrunner with the horn that said “Beep! Beep!” in the cartoon voice. He let me drive it once and showed me how to accelerate around a corner. I almost put us in the ditch.

He took in my troubled 17 year old daughter, who had experienced trauma and needed to complete high school in a different town. Who does that? Only a brother.

He loved his family. He loved his wife, who he would playfully summon from across the room by calling out: “Wench!” He opened up a general store in his community so that people had a place to get the things they needed without driving into town, half an hour away, although he barely made a living wage at it. He had the biggest heart on the planet. He would do anything for those he loved. He wanted to take care of everyone in need, all the time.

But he didn’t take enough care of himself.

He had been addicted to alcohol for a long time. His physical health was deteriorating; in his youth he was strong, fearless, and unstoppable. These days, walking around saying “My head hurts”, a result of his upper spine injury combined with years of rough living. He was suffering. He needed help. Doctors hadn’t found a way to do it yet. Our family was helping him get settled here close to us so we could all work on healing him together; finding better resources and medical care here.

We never got that chance.

The day he died I was at a yoga event, and we were chanting. We recited in Sanskrit: Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu – may all beings be happy and free from suffering. We chanted the words from a song by Trevor Hall:

You can’t rush your healing

Darkness has its teachings

Love is never leaving

You can’t rush your healing

I had never heard it before; I felt moved but not touched by it. After all, everything in my life was fine. I was practicing with my most treasured teacher, and the next day I was leaving for another yoga event to start a ten-day vacation. Everything in my life was grooving along.

But then I got the phone call. And my world forever changed.

I miss you, my brother. I am besieged with regrets; could I have done more, done it sooner? Might I have stepped in and saved your precious beautiful life, cut too short at the age of 54? I can’t believe I will never hear your crazy messages on my voice mail again. I’ll never feel your bear hugs. I’ll never go to your house and find you watching “Second Hand Lions” or “The Kid” for the 100th time. You were going to teach me to make pizza. You were going to help me refinish my wood floors. I was going to finally talk you into doing some yoga with me. How can all that be gone?

I don’t know how to walk through this world that Eric is not a part of. How does someone live without a big brother?  The task is insurmountable. How do people move on in life after a loss like this? Yet I know that they do, every day. I am not alone in this process. It’s a universal pain; we all must learn to deal with death and grief and pain. My brother isn’t suffering any more. He will get to throw a Frisbee for Jeremiah, the almost-mayor dog, at long last. My brother Eric is gone and the rest of us must keep going, although the world will never be the same without him.  My grief will remain within me forever; a raw testament to how much we loved each other. Like an oyster forming a pearl around the irritation of loss, I will create a pearl inside my heat, a shining memory of one I loved so much and lost too soon.

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