Sunday, December 23, 2012

"The Ice Miracle" - a Christmas Short Story

This past November, my mother turned 90 years old. She was 43 when she gave birth to me, so was obviously a lot older than typical mothers of people my age. But having a mother from the World War II generation brought with it all sorts of gifts.

I grew up with an appreciation for Swing and Big Band music (even before its renaissance in the 1990s). I grew up being exposed to all sorts of old 1940s films and movie stars that my mother liked to talk about or have me watch with her. I felt very akin to her generation and often wished I could go back in time and perhaps double-date with her and her boyfriend Johnny Kirkpatrick in Cumberland, Maryland where she grew up.

My affinity for the 1940s inspired a Christmas short story in the winter of 2000. For today's blog entry, I will simply post a revised copy of it for your holiday reading enjoyment.

"The Ice Miracle"

Long Ago and Far Away played softly on the radio as Catherine O’Donnell stood in her tiny living room, a hand poised in the air with the last bit of tinsel for the Christmas tree that she had just finished decorating. Just a small Carolina pine that her father had brought over and helped drag in, but lovely all the same. He had said, “Now Cat, don’t be spending Christmas Eve alone this year. You know what it did to you last year. Why don’t you come with us to Christmas Eve service, and then stay over for the night? Mother’ll make you a nice Christmas breakfast in the morning.”
“Thanks, Daddy,” she’d said, giving him a hug and relishing being folded in her father’s strong, protective arms. “Maybe I will.”
Now she stood there, tinsel in hand, wearing a smart crimson suit dress, her only pair of nylons, and a pair of black pumps that her mother swore she didn’t need anymore—but Catherine knew she was only saying that so it wouldn’t seem like a handout. Her hair was pinned up at the sides, lipstick freshly applied, and the pearl necklace Bill had given her for a wedding present adorned her neck.  All dressed up and no one to see her.  No one to look her up and down, whistle and say, “Gee Cat, you sure are a sight for sore eyes!”
Catherine dropped the tinsel onto a pine bough with a sigh and glanced at the clock on the mantle.  It was time to leave for church, but she couldn’t seem to take the first step.  Something didn’t feel right.  She didn’t want to go to the service or her parents’.  Here she was, twenty-three years old, standing alone in the little home she once shared with her husband—a fortuitous inheritance from his departed and much-beloved grandmother at a time when housing was so hard to come by—until he was sent overseas, and “making do” without him for the third Christmas in a row.  So much had changed since he’d left. She was such a young girl then, and felt so very old now. This year, she’d been drained of any holiday cheer, and was only going through the motions.
Catherine had gone to the movies earlier that day, in need of some distraction from the loneliness, but the latest newsreels filled her with angst. They always did.  Sometimes, even though she knew Bill was in a Top Secret location, she hoped that she’d catch a glimpse of him in the background of the footage, just to see what he looked like these days.  To know he was still alive over there.
Bill getting killed in action was one thing Catherine was not going to allow into her thoughts.  They were meant to be together, ever since they first set flirtatious eyes on one other across the risers in high school choir practice. They were going to have children one day, too, and so dying was out of the question. This whole war was one big, fat inconvenience in their young lives and the sooner it was over, the sooner they could get on with things.
The first few months after he left were the hardest, crying every night and barely able to pull herself together enough to make it to her secretarial pool each morning.  Catherine lived for every letter that he sent.  Then she went numb, perhaps in self preservation, feeling disconnected from needing him…disconnected from the physical yearning for him that had become greater and greater since the first night of her honeymoon.  But lately, for some odd reason, sensations were returning to her body.  Sometimes it was anger, sometimes deep sadness…and sometimes she would get so randy that she found herself staring at the local high school boys as they passed her on the street, with a dark desire to generously give them their first lessons in love.  She was not ashamed of herself.  She knew she wasn’t alone in these feelings, for she and half the women in town had been put through rather cruel and unusual punishment with their men ripped from them and sent far away for God knows how long. All of this had been swirling around and around her head all month, robbing her of any holiday spirit. All she wanted for Christmas was Bill, back in her arms.
Catherine stooped to switch on the tree lights, and then stood back to admire her work. The sudden illumination of the room seemed to set in motion a magic spell, for what happened next was too surreal for logic. Over the voices of the Pied Pipers singing, Dream…when the day is through, she thought she heard the thudding of boots on the welcome mat outside the front door, stomping off snow, and she whirled around.
Dream…and they might come true 
Whoever was out there wasn’t bothering to ring the bell. In fact, the doorknob was turning and the person was coming into the house before she could even think to do anything. Perhaps it was her parents, coming to pick her up. A man stepped into the entranceway.
Things really aren’t as bad as they seem…so dream, dream, dream 
It was shadowy where he stood, but the light from the Christmas tree shone on him, and she could make out a long naval coat and white hat. His brown hair was a little shorter than usual, and his face with the dramatic crease between his brows was slightly thin and drawn. It was like seeing a ghost. A scream of alarm, surprise and delight escaped her mouth as Bill emerged from the hall, taking off his hat.
Catherine took a step toward him, studying his features carefully to be sure it was really him. “Bill?
A tired smile spread across his strong, handsome jaw, and that intense gleam shone in his green eyes that she so loved. “They gave me a last-minute Christmas furlough. I didn’t call because I wanted to surprise you. My God, Cat, you’re still a sight for sore eyes. Even more beautiful than I remember.”
Catherine covered her mouth with her hands and stood there, trying to overcome the shock of seeing her husband come walking into their home when she imagined him across the Atlantic, drinking spiked eggnog with fellow officers at some makeshift Christmas Eve party. She was also overcome with joy at getting the wish she wished for in that precise moment, as impossible as it seemed.
Bill looked around the room, re-acclimating to his home and taking in the twinkling beauty of the Christmas tree. “I was hoping you’d have the tree up.”  Then he looked at her again and laughed. “Well, are you going to stand there all night, or do I get a proper welcome from my wife?”
“Oh God, Bill….” Her heels clattered on the hardwood floor as she ran across it, into his arms. His uniform coat felt cold and stiff, but she clung to it, grabbing handfuls of its thick fabric, then reached up to touch his neck and hair. He held her tightly, and she heard a shuddering sigh escape from deep inside him.
“Cat, I swear…just the mere thought of holding you in my arms again has kept me going day after day.”
She nodded, eyes closed, listening for something, but didn’t hear it. She pulled away and began to unbutton his overcoat. He watched her, amused. Once his blue sweater was exposed beneath it, she pressed her ear to his chest and listened again.  “Ahhh,” she breathed, smiling. “There it is.”
“There what is?”
“Your heart.  I memorized the sound of it the night before you left, while you were sleeping, and kept thinking of the day when I’d hear it again.”
“I love that.”
They held each other a long while, then all too soon realization crept into their bliss like the smell of smoke in a house that has caught fire.  This visit would be but a brief interlude in the nightmare of the war.
“How long can you stay, Bill?”
“Just two days.”
Catherine squeezed her eyes shut and grasped him more tightly. No, she thought.  I don’t ever want him to leave again. Please, God, find a way for him to stay…or get back here more often. A position in Washington…anything besides going back overseas!
Bill pulled back this time and gazed at her. “Ohhhh how I’ve missed this face, these eyes…I told the fellas that you were Rita Hayworth-beautiful, you know.”
Catherine blushed and shook her head.
“And every time they played I’ll Be Seeing You on the radio, my heart just ached.  I kept trying to imagine you dancing with me. I was afraid I’d forget what you even felt like in my arms.”  He had a shameless tear in his eye as he spoke, and Catherine felt a lump swelling in her throat. Ever so gently, he lifted his hand and caressed her cheek, eyes never leaving hers.  The cheek grew flushed beneath his fingers and she felt a warm waterfall cascading down the inside of her body, melting the ice that had started to form there.  She put her hand over his and closed her eyes, taking in the renewed love. Before she had a chance to open them again, she felt his lips on hers, light and uncertain. It felt like a first date, all over again, after all this time. But it wasn’t long before body memories returned and hands re-navigated old, familiar curves and shapes. Bill held her closer to him, and their breathing quickened with an eruption of passionate kisses. They separated from one another for a second, communicating with their eyes, and sizing up the other’s level of desire. They glanced around at the couch, then the floor. Breathless, Catherine laughed, “I dropped a lot of ornament hooks down there. Let’s go upstairs.”
With a spark of adventure in his eyes, Bill scooped Catherine up in his arms and she screamed in delight as he trudged up the staircase.

In the earliest hours of the morning, Catherine lay against her husband’s chest, listening to his breath move in and out slowly. Their legs were intertwined so, that she couldn’t even sense which ones were her own. Her insides hummed with a deep peace that had settled in as the fire of climactic energy subsided. In her final moments before slumber, time stood still and she savored each moment that passed and each breath that they took…until her eyes closed.

The sun poured over the bed on Christmas morning, waking Bill and Catherine, and as they opened their eyes to one another, they smiled.
“Merry Christmas, love,” Bill murmured.
“Yes, it is,” Catherine whispered. “The merriest Christmas ever.  I never dreamed I’d be waking up to you, today.”
Bill just sighed, stroked her shoulder and closed his eyes again.
“I confess, I was a little worried last night. So many of my friends have told me that their husbands or boyfriends felt like strangers when they came home on leave—and that they needed a day or two to get reacquainted. If not longer. But I didn’t feel that with you, Bill. Not at all.”
His eyes opened again and beamed love at her.
“We could never be strangers.”
Bill leaned across their shared pillow and kissed her. She returned it with hungry fervor, and the energy between them intensified. They made love again, slow and lazy this time, loving the feel of their naked bodies beneath the warm covers in their freezing bedroom.
Afterward, Catherine caressed his face, relishing the sight and feel of it even more. Her eyes twinkled with mischief. “Let’s just lay here in bed all morning. Forget church…forget the family. We can go later.”
Bill grit his teeth with a pained smile. “As much as I’d love that, my darling, I have to tell you that I’m simply starving.”
“Oh!” Catherine cried, sitting up and knocking the covers off them both. “Let me make you a huge breakfast, then. I haven’t had a chance to cook much or bake due to sugar rationing…but I’ve got eggs and bread and sausage!”
“Gee, that’d be swell, Cat. And I’ll make us a fire. It’s damn cold in this house!”
They tore themselves away from the comfort of their warm bed, donned bathrobes, and headed downstairs. On the way, Catherine noticed Bill feeling the soft flannel of his robe and looking at it as though he’d never seen it before. How funny it must be, she mused, to come home and put something on that you haven’t worn in almost three years.
In the kitchen, Catherine pulled pots and pans out of the cupboards. In minutes, Bill had a roaring, toasty fire in the fireplace. Then he turned on the radio and she heard the merry strains of the Andrew Sisters singing Jingle Bells in their signature three-part harmonies. Bill kicked off his slippers, crept up behind his wife and grabbed her arm, pulling her into a spontaneous jitterbug.
Catherine dropped her wooden spoon on the stove with a clatter and giggled like a schoolgirl.
They rocked back and forth and did a couple of spins.
“I miss dancing with you,” he told her. “Those women at the USO dances…they can’t hold a candle to you, baby!”
“European women?” she asked, one eyebrow raising, pretending to be jealous.
After a few more steps he released her with a playful ruffle of the hair, and stood back to look at her once again. “Catherine, my eyes just can’t get enough of you.  If you were a bottle of wine, I’d be drunk! It’s so good to be home.”
They stared at each other, intimate smiles lighting up their faces. Then, as if hearing the clock ticking with the time remaining on the furlough, the smiles faded.  Both of them knew that duty called, and how critical the war was at this juncture. It was a miracle that he had even been given leave in the first place.
“Say, Cat, do we still get a morning paper?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, pointing to the front door. “It should be out on the front porch.” Catherine bent down to get some eggs out of the ice box, heard the front door open, and felt a cold draft creep into the kitchen from the outside. After gathering a handful of eggs and cracking each one into a bowl, the kitchen grew frigid and her skin covered with goose bumps. “Bill, close the door!”
There was no answer, so she wiped her hands and went to see what was taking him so long. When she looked out the front door, a gasp escaped her.  Bill was lying in a heap at the bottom of the porch steps!
“Cat, I’m hurt,” he said, wincing in pain and clutching his right thigh. “It’s bad.”  Catherine started to hurry toward the steps, but he warned, “Be careful! It’s icy…that’s why I fell.”
Catherine noticed that the paper had landed three feet short of the porch, which was the reason he’d gone down the steps in the first place. “Oh Lord, Bill,” she cried, descending the steps gingerly, grabbing the handrail for dear life. She knelt beside her husband. The way his leg was bent looked very strange, and she knew it was broken.  “Can you get up?”
“I don’t think I should try.”
“I’ll get blankets and call for help. Will you be okay?”
“Just hurry.”
Catherine gave him a quick but tender kiss before rising and scrambling back up the porch, grasping the railing till her knuckles were white.

“I’ll bet you never bargained on spending Christmas Day in the hospital,” the kindly nurse said to them after Bill’s leg had been set in a cast, in the emergency ward of the military hospital. She stood over him, one hand clutching a clipboard, the other on her hip. “The doc says this leg was broken in three places…and that you might not be able to return to duty for a long time…maybe not at all, depending on how it heals.”
Bill nodded, but said nothing. The pain medication they’d given him earlier was kicking in, and his eyes were glazing over. Catherine sat next to him on the bed, a protective arm around his shoulders, beaming up at the nurse.
“Doesn’t look like it’s taken any of your Christmas cheer away,” she remarked, glancing at Catherine’s inappropriate grin that contrasted her husband’s painful situation.
Catherine shook her head.
“Well,” the nurse sighed, hanging the clipboard with Bill’s information on the edge of the emergency bed, “I’ll go rustle up a gurney so we can get you into a proper bed on the next floor.” She walked off, closing the white partition curtain behind her.
Catherine gave Bill’s shoulders a triumphant squeeze. He was all hers, once again. Weeks of recuperation at home, in their bed. In her heart, she gave thanks for the careless paperboy who didn’t throw the paper far enough. She gave thanks for the leaky gutter that dripped water onto the porch steps, and the subsequent ice that formed there overnight—causing her husband to fall. But most of all, Catherine thanked God for sending his only Son to Earth….because if it hadn’t been for Christmas, her husband would not have been granted leave, and would still be on some ship in Europe or wherever it was they sent him, ready to go into the war zone again on two good legs.

~Alexandra Lander, 2000

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Their Honor

First, a moment of silence for the fallen educators and children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut… and for the ones who were killed in a Portland, Oregon shopping mall this very same week.

Having a “positivity and inspiration”-themed blog, I thought long and hard about writing an entry in response to this week’s tragedies. One has to tread carefully and choose the most appropriate words, out of respect for the dead and the people grieving for them.

I live in one of the two cities that were affected by the shootings. This time, it came within a few miles of my home. I also used to teach primary-grade students once upon a time, and even had a couple of lock-down drills with them. I have to say, this one shook me up pretty badly.

The word that came to everyone’s mind, when faced with the absolute horror of the news—and not just this week, but all the other unfortunate times in history that this has happened before—is a resounding WHY?
We will never know the answer that lies beneath the murky surface of mental illness and dangerous instability. Even if we did know, it certainly would not help ease the pain. And trying to find national solutions to this recurring problem will be a tedious and difficult road. Singer/songwriter Dan Bern composed a song after one of the very first school slayings, called “Kids’ Prayer.” His lyrics are poignant, thought-provoking, wise, and maybe just a little soothing as he offers a touching litany of possible solutions and hope.

After reading several conversations online in various social networks, a recurring phrase seems to come up in response to random killings time and time again. “What has happened to this world? The whole world’s gone crazy.” This was the sweeping statement uttered for all the other mass shootings, the heinous crimes, the 9/11 tragedies, terrorist bombings, each and every war, the Holocaust, and a list of crimes that goes on and on into the annals of history.

The thought that keeps coming to me, from the depths of my soul, is this: 

Evil things keep happening to innocent people in this world. But it’s doesn’t mean the whole world has gone crazy. It means some seriously disturbed and sick people have exacted their power to harm others. They are but a few, versus the thousands of good and loving people that never get sensationalized media attention. For every bombing or shooting, covered and exploited with hours and days of news reports, there are hundreds of random acts of compassion and goodness happening at the same time. Homeless people being fed and sheltered, people from all over the globe doing volunteer work in third world nations, Christmas gifts and dinners being donated to families who are poverty-stricken and would have otherwise gone without, charities raising money for important humanitarian or medical research causes, choirs going to sing and visit at nursing homes and hospitals, where the weary and lonely could use a heartwarming infusion of cheer and good will toward all, everyday people holding the door open for package-laden mothers pushing strollers, or standing up to give bus seats to elderly passengers, kids reaching out and asking the new kids in school to play, or even just a tiny little baby—doing his or her part too—by simply smiling up at a stranger in line at the grocery who was having a really crappy day until that moment.

I don’t know about you, but I will not let this handful of individuals—who have had something go terribly wrong in their brain and done massive amounts of damage to people—define the state of my world. I will not let them cast a lingering shadow on the way I see my fellow humans, so many of whom are doing massive amounts of good. I will not let those random acts of compassion and love be done in vain.

With monumental respect for those who lost their lives this week and in the past to senseless violence, I feel I owe them this: 

In their honor, I will never give up on the goodness of the human race and the world in which we live. I will be there for people to help with the healing. I will be there for them to lend a kind word or deed. Even in times of personal adversity, I will try to always be the voice of inspiration and hope, and to help lift people up and direct them to better-feeling thoughts. I will focus on and contribute to how I want the world to be, rather than focusing on what is wrong and horrible.  No matter what unfathomable evil takes place in our world, I will wipe the tears from my eyes, take a deep breath, and remember what is still right and good. I will focus on the capacity of most people to love and unify. 

This, to me, is the most productive thing I can do with the energy from the feelings that this week’s events have evoked.

This morning, a good friend of mine posted a quote from Leo Tolstoy on Facebook. I had never heard this quote before, but it certainly hit home. Thank you, Stephanie.

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 

~ Mister Rogers

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”

~ Leo Tolstoy

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stripped (Or...The Guest That Wouldn't Leave)

"Take my hand, come back to the land
Let's get away just for one day

Let me see you
stripped down to the bone

Let me see you stripped down to the bone"

~Depeche Mode

Hello out there, if anyone still peeks in here from time to time...

For the last six months I have been treading the waters of "survival mode" (i.e. working a temp job, barely making ends meet, and trying to get my feet firmly on the ground in my new city at "bare minimum" living). And as I've often told people, when I'm working that hard at trying to stay afloat, my creative juices tend to dry up and my writing-mojo train derails. It's not fun. A writer should be putting pen to paper (or finger to keypad, as it were) daily. Everyone knows that. But there are times when it just won't come. And you wait patiently for it to return.

In these last six months (let alone 3 years), things did not progress quickly. There were obstacles at every turn. Unsatisfactory situations dragged on and on. But I've made it most of the way through, now. According to the stars, there is light at the end of the tunnel - at the beginning of next month, to be exact.

If talk of astrology makes you say "BAH-ha-ha! Really?" then you may want to skip ahead a few paragraphs. Or bah-ha-ha your way through.

You see, for the last three years, Saturn has been the "guest who wouldn't leave" transiting through the House of Libra (my sun sign). If anyone reading this is a Libra, this might explain any hardships you've had, too. Saturn sauntered in around October of 2009, wedged its ass in our couch, helped itself to our snacks and drinks, and began inflicting unsolicited lessons on us, whether we Librans wanted them or not. For three years.

I think sums it up best:

Saturn transits and cycles can be considered cycles of achievement and maturity. When Saturn forms a hard aspect to a personal point in our chart, we might feel that everything is slowed down--we encounter delays, frustrations, and pressures. But these times also challenge us to face reality, thereby opening ourselves up to increased wisdom and the freedom that comes with living in truth

Significant decisions are often made during Saturn's hard transits to our personal planets. These transits slow life down (or at least, that is how we perceive it) and force us to live our lives in the present. Although Saturn transits can make life feel like a drudgery (these are often times when our lives seem to move at a snail's pace and advancements are hard to see), they also give us the opportunity to gain inner strength, to become more responsible for what we do and say, and to cut out waste or excesses in our lives. Basically, what happens is a form of paring or slimming down in the area of life affected by Saturn. We are getting rid of things in our lives that are not working for us in the real world, and focusing on improving and strengthening the things that do serve a useful purpose.
I won't go back and recount all the things that went down in my life when Saturn arrived at the end of 2009. I only want to talk about this last year--when I decided to knock down the sandcastle of my 4-year life back in Ohio, return to the west coast, and start completely over. Yes, again. I belong in the West and near the ocean. I decided this is where the setting and the cast for Part II of my life would definitely happen.

This is where the Depeche Mode reference comes in. In starting over, one is stripped of pretty much everything that makes up "life as they know it." The song is about a man wanting to see what his woman would be like stripped of all her possessions and technology and city living that she apparently is so dependent on--just for one day. While I was never this sort of material girl, dependent on any possession or way of life, really.....I thought of this song often, after coming to Portland.

After leaving Ohio for the second time, I was stripped of my immediate family and inner posse of best friends. Yes, I know they are only a phone call, an email, or a Facebook click away, but I no longer had the ability to spend time with them whenever I wanted. I missed all the weddings and pregnancies and babies being born. I missed seeing Dave's woodcarving gallery on first Fridays and visits to The Pub with my bestest buds.

Then I was stripped of privacy. I lived with relatives (bless their generous souls!) and had only a common living room in which to use as a temporary headquarters. Gradually, I was stripped of my savings as I lived off them to support myself until I found a job. Once I found a long-term temp job, I acquired my own space again in an apartment, but it was a very small one, with none of my belongings in it. Just a borrowed airbed--which ended up leaking and so I moved my free Craigs List futon into the bedroom with some memory foam on top. I also got a cheap second-hand computer desk, and two plastic deck chairs. But everything I owned, which had been culled down to a handful of furniture, household necessities, important documents/files/books, a massage table/chair, and my bike, was back in Ohio. I would have to live without it all for a long time, because I wouldn't be able to move it anytime soon.

I got really good at living with little to nothing. It was cleansing and good for the soul. It forced me to venture out and find no-money fun to have, like hiking and meetup groups that listened to music in parks and wrote together and played Euchre! I had my sister and my bike-tech nephew ship my bike out to me when summer came, because no one should be without their bike in Portland. That's like a mortal sin here. Having my bike offered me a psychological sense of freedom to move forward quickly and go wherever I liked, while everything else in life (that I had no control over) was holding me back. Running did this for me as well, as I happily trained for the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon and crossed the finish line at 2:29:54 - six seconds under my personal goal.

Living in this "bare minimum" style also forced me to take a good look at my dreams and goals and start re-forming a game plan as to how I would achieve them. It was going to take a lot of strategic planning and ingenuity, but also persistence and faith and never giving up on them. No matter how distant and impossible they seemed. I never got to have children, so these few dreams I have left in life are ALL that I have. I owe it to myself to go after them, and maybe even find something better than I ever imagined along the way.

In mid-summer, I mastered the art of living on $30 of grocery money per week. It was down to fruits and vegetables and maybe one meat that I could creatively fix five different ways. I got fancy with Ramen Noodles, throwing in celery and mushrooms to make an Asian dish that I'd had at my sister's in Hawaii once, and loved. (I learned to exist on about 500 calories/day--I would SO survive a Mad Max Apocalypse, hiding out in the wilderness and being a leader of the Resistance) The afternoon lattes that I would sometimes treat myself to (prior to this period of life) ceased, because sometimes there wasn't even three extra bucks in my purse....and I had to just look forward to the day when those could be affordable treats once again.

(One day, after encountering the hundredth desperate-eyed person on Fifth Avenue asking for money...I simply looked at him with compassion and said, "How I wish I had extra right now.")

In the last few months I have been stripped of a comfortable bed to sleep in, regular (and healthful) massage therapy, live music concerts (at venues that cost money), travel, or even short trips to things around town when I had no gas in the car and no money to fill it up. During those weeks, I stayed home and hung out in the nature preserve next door, swam in the apartment pool, or went on long bike rides from my parking lot out onto country roads in the area.

At long last, I landed a full time, permanent job in downtown Portland at the same company at which I'd been temping. It was a real turning point for me, in that I would now have reasonable amounts of money coming in. I could set a tight budget, pay off some debts that had accumulated in my months of poverty, and then save up to move my belongings and sleep in a real bed again. It didn't change things overnight, but I'm definitely on my way back up again...and extremely grateful. office faces Mt. Hood. I can't tell you how often I have to walk to the window, gaze across the river into the distance, and draw strength from that magnificent creation of nature.

Rather than look at my remaining debts--the things that are STILL standing in my way and holding me up from, say, self-publishing my completed novel Just Wait (how ironic is THAT title)--as horrible things, I wrote them each down on a paper cut-out of a puffy cloud and stuck them on my bare wall. When each one is paid off, I rip the cloud from the wall, and little by little the clouds start to disperse.

Now, I am immersed in learning a new and challenging job. My brain is fully engaged, and I often come home worn out and in need of mindless entertainment (like old episodes of Arrested Development--who can resist hours and hours of Jason Bateman, I ask you?) But once my training is over, no more excuses. Writing must take precedence in my life, once again. If I could work diligently on a novel while being a busy First Grade teacher, and finish another novel while simultaneously working in a busy publishing company, then I can continue with my works-in-progress now. Just a little bit each day, be it journal or blog or poem or snippet of a scene that I thought up while riding in the elevator.

My sister also advised me to get one of the spiritual tools I've used in the past (meditation, Law-of-Attraction work, Yoga, Presence Process, etc.) and not let it fall by the wayside. She said to keep doing it each day and letting it finally become so ingrained in my life that it takes no effort at all...then and only then will inner shifts finally take place. Beliefs about money and how much I deserve to have. Belief in the success of my future novels. Belief in the dwelling I wish to live in one day with my husband. Belief in the lovely little banquet center that could be my retirement project. Belief in the endless and joyous possibilities continuing on in my life, getting more amazing by the year.

Belief is a powerful thing. Perhaps it was never Saturn's fault. Perhaps it was just some inner growth that was supposed to take place at this point in my life. Perhaps I was supposed to experience this stripping away, like the varnish off an old hardwood that it can be sanded and re-done into something smooth and polished, its authentic wood revealed once again. Or silver annealed in fire, only to emerge stronger and better. And, as a dear friend of mine pointed out, "Remember that it needs to cool slowly."

And so comes the cooling off period. The Reconstruction of my life. It's going to get even more amazing than it already has, and I'm looking forward to it.

But I'm still glad Saturn is leaving. Goodbye, you Taskmaster Planet. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. Ho ho.........ho.

Okay, fellow Librans....and anyone else who's been facing hardship and challenge of late. This is our rally song!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Being Willing to Receive

Some amazing things went down this week, many of which I'm still processing. But these events are definitely worth sharing, because they felt like miracles to me.

Since my last entry, I've been stressing out a lot about survival. I finally took a huge leap of faith and got an apartment of my own. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I reclaimed my independence and privacy for the first time in four and a half years. But I'm not out the woods yet, financially. My temp job was extended until the end of April, but there is still no permanent job on the horizon. Everything is still up in the air, undecided, and a mystery.

And so I've been living very simply, without spending much money and without many of my worldly possessions, which are sitting in a basement back in Ohio, waiting for me to come get them. I have no idea when I'll have the money to move. I should probably enjoy how spacious my tiny place is, before the stuff finally gets here to clutter it up.

In the meantime, there are taxes due, Vet bills to pay down, more monthly expenses now that I'm on my own, and rising gas prices. And laptop, which is old and only hanging together (quite literally) by a thread, caught a damn virus. I had a serious "George Bailey" meltdown in which I prayed for help in a big way. Immediate help. I felt myself completely surrender. I felt my panicked fists un-clench, and I felt my hands open to receive. This is easier said than done, when I am so used to being the Giver. I love being the Giver, I truly do. But sometimes I get so into that role, that I forget how to receive. I feel uneasy about asking for help. But in that moment...I was willing.

Sure enough, my prayers were fast-tracked.

When I finally had the courage to get out of bed, I called the number of a private computer tech who runs a little mom-and-pop business out of his home. He is the Awesome when it comes to knowing his computer-tech stuff. I feel fortunate to have found him, and was doubly fortunate when he felt compassion for my situation and gave me a ridiculously generous discount on his house call. He fixed the virus, cleaned all the malware and other crap off its drive, put more powerful virus protection on it, and offered to give me (GIVE me) a monitor and keyboard so I could use my desktop computer as backup. I had tears in my eyes when I signed my bill and thanked him profusely.

But that's not all I received.

In searching for computer parts on Craig's List, I came across a couple who wanted to get rid of their like-new futon that they didn't need. Now I have a place to sit down in my empty apartment!

And now I have a great "headquarters" in which to work on all those 7th grade articles I'm writing in a new educational-writing freelance job I landed last week.

Gifts like these have been raining down on me for the last couple of months in intermittent showers...but this week was the downpour. Just like the rain that continues to fall and fall and fall on my city right now, with no end in sight.

I decided to stop railing against the rain and embrace it. I sang all the songs I could think of about rain, as I walked the four blocks from my bus stop to my building downtown. I relished the humming of the rails as the MAX glided by. I gazed up at the giant Portlandia statue, reaching down to pedestrians below and had a big Talking Heads "Well...HOW DID I GET HERE??" moment. (Life is so crazy) I even bought a running hat so I could run in the damn rain as I train for a half-marathon coming up in May. The less resistance I have, the more things flow, the more I relax, and the more my hands open to receive.

I swear, that's just the way it works.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

When It Just Won't Let Up

A lot can happen in seven months.

Since my last blog entry, I busted a move. In November I packed up my car and went out to the Pacific Northwest on a temporary basis, staying at the home of a very generous cousin until I found a job. Three months, three interviews, and two temp jobs later...I'm still looking for long-term work, still trying to get settled, and currently facing all kinds of adversity and challenges every step of the way.

If you've ever been through a phase in life where one challenge after another keeps hurtling into your path with the ridiculous frequency of a video game...if it's the kind of phase where you feel like the sailor on deck holding onto the mast with all his might while one storm after another batters his ship till he's so tired he can hardly hold on anymore...

...then this blog's for YOU.

I've learned a lot about my need (and perhaps many humans' need) for privacy, and how it can--in the long term--do a number on one's head when it's non-existent. I now know that I would never make it in a commune. I need my sacred space. After not having my own dwelling since August of 2007, I'm beyond frazzled. I daydream about cooking in my own kitchen again, and playing the music I want to hear, singing along as I walk throughout the house. I dream of stretching out and getting a good night's sleep in my own queen-size bed again, or walking around naked if I choose to.

Amazing how life (most of it, anyway) comes to a grinding halt when you don't have adequate money to pay for basic needs like food, shelter, and transportation.

So as the need to find my own apartment becomes more urgent, the permanent job/long term assignment continues to elude me. This week I discovered that my cat's cavity is making her more uncomfortable and it's probably a good idea to have her tooth pulled as soon as possible. Then, because I forgot to change my withholding to 0---I owe a huge sum of taxes this year. And finally....if I'm to find an interim living arrangement while I wait for the next job, that will also cost money.

So many challenges started happening, that it became absurdly funny. First I laughed. Then I yelled to the universe, "Fine! You wanna pile it on? Go right ahead! I've been through worse things than this!"

I mean, seriously. I can only fret and stress for so long before I just have to surrender and trust that there is a process and that it's all going to work out. Even if I have to squirm in the uncertainty a little longer.

I spent two hours on the phone with one of my best friends last night. The one who always reminds me of everything I know and believe, spiritually. She is my Reinforcer always, and I love her for that. So my new plan of attack is gratitude and focusing on all the things I have before me, despite what's still missing and lacking.

Today, the sun is shining in a blue Sunday sky. My body is healthy and strong as I train for another half marathon. I have family and friends who love me dearly and are all sending good thoughts and hopes that I will be settled soon with a great job and home. I have my trusty new Hyundai that gets me where I need to go, and wonderful public transportation that saves me gas money. I still have a roof over my head and a temporary room of my own while my cousin is away, and enough food to last me until my next payday. I have a job and income for the next five weeks. My cat only has a bad tooth, and not a life-threatening illness. And the city in which I reside has gorgeous scenery all around it, for me to enjoy every day.

The goals that are out there waiting for me cannot enter my life when I'm coming from a place of stress and struggle. After embracing my human emotion of fear, and the inconvenience of uncertainty--which has been going on for a few years, now--I need to get up, lean toward feeling good, be aware of what's happening in each moment, and breathe.

Easier said than done, sometimes, but's the only way to survive.