Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Time of Mourning, or On Really Hard Tears (first draft)

Reading this quote now is healing and cathartic, though the tears are long past. Yesterday marked one year since the official split, which is still impossible to write about in any kind of genuine detail. Vague is still the preferred route in navigating through. I have sat down 365 times to start a true sentence of healing, but somehow the anger would take over, or the grief. The sense of multiple losses was overwhelming and a certain aspect of denial felt really good. Therapy saved me. I'm not crying anymore, not of the same tears anyway, but I cried more tears every waking moment from April 25-around August 25, than I ever cried in my entire life (or ever will). But I still feel awful and guilty and penitent and a certain sense of betrayal. I wonder if the guilt will ever really go away, or if it will latch on, like a little girl holding tightly to the long string of her red balloon at the fair.

I wonder if releasing the guilt/red balloon is important, or if there is more to be learned as the guilt festers. I know it's important to let things go. I know it still hurts because my writing feels stalled. Stagnant. Aesthetically pleasing, when what I'm going for is raw and vulnerable. Writing that will make you cringe. Is it possible to still feel the emotions, to still experience the guilt, and to be able to accurately write about it? I'm not going back to that desperate crying stage that I lived in for 4 months. I've moved beyond the desperate tears to peaceful acceptance. Loving understanding. Unconditional love and gratitude to the good times, but also the really bad times. The gut-wrenching times when the floor is the only comfort and the Psalms have withered and shriveled.

But the tears sure felt amazing. When I read this quote on Pinterest it just clicked. Something in the language resonated, especially the bit about overwhelming grief and unspeakable love. That should be in a hymn somewhere. And probably is.

The grief stage lasted forever and a day. "A time to mourn" became a time to morph. The longing is still there but has changed form. The original longing was for a return to the same, a resistance to change. To move back to the city, even to the same neighborhood. The longing to live with a friend and experience the nearness. It felt like that's what would bring the desires back, and we'd realize that future was coming upon us and we should embrace the inevitable forever. Let it wash over.

But you can't embrace something that is turned away from you. Or someone, rather. The saddest part is I would have. I would have devoured him in a sweet embrace, his face turned away, his shoulders square and resistant. His locked jaw and my open mouth, rooting. His demeanor painfully stoic. I still would have longed and yearned. Did long and yearn.

Then over the past 7 months the longing slowly turned into the quest for independence, forging a new path, surprising introductions, and altogether, newness in multiple forms. A new job, a new friend, a new fascination. Fascination which turned into possibility.

That's when the distance became healing. There needed to be a time of a thousand tears. That kind of pain will never truly be experienced again. The racing suicidal thoughts. The clinging on to anyone who would hold. The rampant self-loathing, self-hatred, self-abolishing. The dozens of phone calls. The begging. I would have done anything, and did.

Evolving out of a co-dependent lifestyle, out of toxicity, out of stagnancy, into rawness, into anger, into grief, into sadness, and now, acceptance, understanding, fueled by little and big rebellions alike. The wonder is where the self will finally reside. When the grace will kick in. Gratitude feels abundant. Still judging the self-loathing in others feels like a necessary step backward. Necessary steps forward will come. Time will still pass. Tears of grief no longer fall. A time to rejoice is coming.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Months ago my therapist, B, and I were grappling over the subject of what else, love. The theme of the year. Well, I was grappling and furrowing my brows. He was most likely closing his eyes in a zen state, focusing on his breath, meditating, and generally being the calm Buddha that he is. B is for Brave Buddhist.

I was a MESS. Starting over in every way, in more ways than one, square one, blank slate. New beginning. I was anxious, my heart would race, I'd launch into pessimism and trash-talking of self. B urged me to beware the present tense. That didn't compute. Beware? Present tense? Yes, he urged, beware what you say in the present tense. When I put myself and my actions down, he'd remind me to force that into the past. "I don't know how to have healthy relationships" became "I haven't known how to have a healthy relationship in the past" which evolved into "I haven't learned how to have a healthy relationship." This is all paraphrased. I want to write down everything B says, but it's rude to pull out a notebook and besides, we're focusing on our breath and being in the moment. In the time it would take me to rifle through my canvas maps of Paris bag, find my notebook and a pen that works, and open to a fresh page where I left off, the moment would have passed. And with my memory, I'd have forgotten the reason why I went searching for the notebook in the first place.

It was B who saved me from my depression and self-torturing, but he'd be humble and say it was the universe unfolding in love. And I am open to the universe and I am recognizing my relationship with the divine. He'd close his eyes and then look at his hand and then smile the smile that only B seems to have, one radiant with joy and peace and assurance. A smile that reaches his eyes.

Disclaimer: I am not a Buddhist. I was raised a Christian, but lately I've been grappling even with that. Everything Buddhist makes perfect sense. I'm all about inclusiveness and shunning exclusivity. Buddhist quotes and teachings have started resonating with me and I thought it was through B's presence in my life for about a year now, starting serendipitously with the week of the split, but the more I read past writings and journals, the more I realize it was in me all along. There was a liberal living inside of that troubled teen. She came out during college, thankfully, and my soul felt free to soar. Could I be a closet Buddhist? No. I accepted Christ at 14, and I'm sure of it. Granted, I went through a lot of the motions. I got saved. I know I did. I was baptized. I felt changed. I went to the summer camps. Hard as it was to be an introvert at Christian camp (that's an essay idea!), I bunked with 10 other strangers, 4 counselors, went down the crazy water slides in the middle of central Floridian summer, praised and worshipped, prayed and practiced penitence. I still wear the cross (as well as the peace sign). I grapple over wearing the cross and being a pro-choice, gay rights advocate liberal but do anyways. Went to Christian college. Was an RA at said Christian college. Used to attend church religiously. But somewhere along the line the message became watered down to me. It didn't register with my authentic heart. Shun exclusivity? The Christian faith is entirely exclusive. One God. His one son.

I took a good hard look in the mirror the other day and asked my 30 year old people-pleasing face, "Are you doing this because you really want to, or because you're scared to live truth?" My truth would certainly not line up with my parents and their church (that I just joined). And when I come to realize and accept that that's ok, I'll be ready to embrace my authentic self. Luckily she will be waiting patiently as I catch up to her on this journey.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

What it All Means

It's hard to write about this. Mostly since like anything I get seriously affected by, it didn't happen to me. Therefore I feel like I'm stealing someone else's thunder when I mourn. Regardless, my father's massive heart attack last month in the Philippines in addition to emergency double bypass greatly influenced me. Here's how.

JP waltzed into my life, or, rather, we catapulted into his, a little over 20 years ago. I met him when I was 8, in California, after a l-o-n-g road trip in our little white Renault. Just me, mom and Linds. Mom was 28. Linds was about 4. I was a nervous, sweet, funny, cocky, uptight little 8 year old terrified of meeting a new man. Was I supposed to call him daddy? Would he leave? Did he drink? I remember thinking these things, at 8, as we drove through so many long states. I'd been born and raised on the east coast, never experiencing geography like this before. A lot of sun, in October. Something I'd only heard about when the teacher taught history: desert. A lot of sprawling land. Huge new changes. Would he like Lindsay and me? Did he love my mom? What would my new school be like? In California, a land far from Georgia and what I'd become accustomed to since the brutal divorce. At eight I had become conscious of things like change and court and moms losing 25 pounds in gut-wrenching custody battles. I'd grown cognizant of the fact that a lot could be decided from simple answers to complicated questions, like when (at 5)the judge asked me who I wanted to live with and I told him my mom tells me stories but I don't know where my dad goes. I remember shaking the magic 8 ball in the judge's office, but the answers couldn't come from a magic ball this time.

There were dinosaur fruit snacks on the countertop. A life-altering move, a new dad, a new state, a new, spacious condo overlooking a koi pond in Mountain View, California, and all I remember is the dinosaur fruit snacks. We were little girls. Already I found JP adorable. There were 2 boxes, neatly arranged on an otherwise pristine countertop in this long kitchen with complicated-looking appliances. I was mesmerized from the start. Didn't know where to look first. The koi pond? The balcony? The living room with the fascinating red fire place? I had never been in an adult's condo before. Never seen a bachelor pad. I'd never witnessed someone so in love with my mom. Someone so happy around her, so accommodating, so eager and generous. A complete stranger I felt immediately at ease around. His condo became a comfort. Our life started to feel complete, at once. In my eight year old mind I even remember thinking, this is too good to be true. Dads aren't like this.

Fast-forward 22 years. A little lifetime of skinned knees and dad patch-ups. Learning how to ride a bike on the California asphalt, JP running behind me like the wind, holding on tight. Linds whizzing in and out of my path, devilishly grinning. In her training wheels. He let go; I had the bravado and confidence to keep riding. Supertag, frisbee, expeditions, flying over the Bay Bridge. Paper-wrapped chicken at Tien Fu. Introductions to exotic, exquisite cuisines. Our little blonde heads being patted in Okinawa by the sweet Japanese. Yakitori festivals and cherry tree blossoms. Little buddhas. Millions of memories condensed into 22 short years. They flew by, like my long blonde hair soaring in the breeze on that exploratory bicycle ride. He held on and held on, so fatherly, so instantly dad-like, at 33, having never married, with no kids and no kid experiences. It felt uncanny. It felt perfect. It was a relief. Homecoming dances, junior and senior proms. The protectiveness of dad teaching me to dance with my high school crush. That Saturday morning in high school where he introduced me to Brubeck and started my lifelong love affair with jazz. Taking a running jump into Thompson Lake in the summer, and that first winter toboganning down camp's driveway. Hearing his screams and shouts and "hurray"s during my first cross country meet. I was so embarrassed, naturally, at 14. Today I'm beaming, celebrating a father's love. A stranger who became a father, literally overnight. The complexity of our situation faded away as he proved himself over 22 years. Tickle toes, robe nights, his sentimentality. That moment in the middle of You've Got Mail when you look to your right at the sound of a sniffle and of course there J is, tissues and tears and that "Oh, sweetie."

The memories flashed before my eyes in my groggy mind when mom came racing into my room at 7:33 am. "Shannon, J just called, he's having chest pains, Oh my God." Her panic, hysterics, my numbness. I couldn't feel my face. The tears wouldn't come. All I could think is "No. This can't happen. Not to him." And then I ran to my computer, cursing my stubbornness at still not having a smart phone. Logging on to Facebook, all I could think was, God spare him. If you please just spare him, I'll do anything. I'll move out. I'll get my life together. I'll get my dog fixed. I'll go to church and mean it. I'll tithe again. You can have me back, if you just spare him. I'll volunteer at the homeless shelter and change my name like I've been avoiding. I won't avoid LIFE anymore. I'll open up a soup kitchen. Whatever it takes. I am Yours. Just give me my dad in one piece.

When I posted that my father was experiencing chest pains this very moment in Manila while on a business trip, people came crawling out of the woodwork. Friends from high school I hadn't talked to in years but were mentored by J at one time, praying and sending love. Church friends and acquaintances where J is a devoted member of several ministries. People praying, sending good vibes and well wishes, asking what they could do and how they could help. No idea what to ask for or what to tell them. The casserole ministry springing into action as my mom flew over the world to get to her husband, just arriving as he was coming out of bypass surgery. One aunt springing to action here in Virginia kicking into gear the process of expediting a passport, hand-delivering scans of my dad's heart to the head cardiologist at UVA's personal home. One aunt literally dropping everything and catching the first flight to Manila, sending him off with kisses and hugs from home. Grandparents calling constantly to check in and show support as siblings just barely made it through. Linds and her husband in Florida feeling helpless as I was, launching a CaringBride site. Most of all, my Filipino guardian angel friend from work, where, bear in mind, I have only been for 5 months at this point, throwing herself and all of her Filipino contacts into action. Around 8 am I posted about the chest pains. Not 15 minutes later was Anne texting me for details, alerting me that her friend like a sister to her was on her way to hospital. The texting and calls and constant support from Anne continued until the very end, in fact, continues today, a month later. As I still process the whole of what happened, she took the time and the initiative to BE in the midst of my nightmare. Texting me the names of doctors on the other side of the world who just performed angioplasty on my dad. Giving me the phone number to his doctor and his room at Makati Medical Center in Manila. I didn't have time to pinch myself. But days later, rifling through each text, my body couldn't help but shake. The tears finally came. No longer was I in shock. This friend literally CARRIED me and my family through the biggest crisis of our life, world away from each other, as my dad was experiencing his heart attack, she had loved ones showing up at the hospital introducing themselves as family friends. The depth of the situation hits me at rare moments. In the shower I will recognize the sheer temporariness of this life and start weeping. As I'm getting ready for work I just drop and start praying. Like there's an earthquake happening. Or a storm warning. I can't get away from God anymore. I don't want to.

In this moment, it is impossible for me to feel as if God doesn't exist. Impossible to feel unloved and unblessed. Impossible to feel anything but gratitude for this formerly doubting Thomas. Joy, even. Impossible to feel depressed. "It's like God's rolling out the red carpet," my sister candidly stated. And that's the only expression for it. The only adequate way to describe this journey and the whole of what happened. It feels exciting now. To look back and watch the events unfolding, so cinematic. Mom racing over from the airport, lost luggage, as dad emerges from surgery stupor, just opening his eyes! Mom ten minutes away from hospital! Constant Facebook updates from aunt, right there, watching this all unfold like a film. To see the orchestrations of the divine. To brush my fingers over mother-of-pearl caviar spoons and page through Filipino cookbooks and wear gorgeous freshwater pearl earrings, gifts from their travels. But I will never forget the moment of realization: when I came to understand this life and its point, and my purpose, and what it all means.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Another snow day

Today I woke up to snow pounding against my windows. Or at least that is what it felt like. Thick snow flakes, and a blanket of snow covering the ground. I'm over this, is what I was thinking. I'm over the cold. I'm over slipping and falling on the road when walking my dog. You see he pulls the leash, sometimes right out of my hand, and runs off, with my shoulder out of joint and sometimes I fall. Sometimes my ankle or knee will give out. My body feels about 86 years old most of the time. The last thing I need is a slip and fall or a break. (Actually, the only thing I need is a break!)

Anyway, the snow came again. Despite last weekend being 70 degrees and sunny. Snow came about a week before that, despite taking E for a picnic on UVA lawn with Take it Away sandwiches, closely monitoring the car parked in 15 minute parking. The snow is hopefully gone to stay. It's nearly April. It's hard not to think of April as a bleak month anymore, with last year's death and broken engagement/subsequent break-up. But I'm focusing on moving past all that, remaining cognizant of death and grief and change of heart/ change of plans. It's tough. I'd have liked to come a much longer ways since then. But you have to meet life each day where you are. That sounds like bullshit. It probably is. If I don't write every day, I forget the path I'm on. Some days there doesn't seem to feel like a path underneath. But I know there is. There is still a forged path, even if I'm not on it. Some days I don't feel anywhere concrete. Like I'm floating above the ground, not moving forward. But also not regressing backward. I don't know. It feels like a bunch of guff. Maybe that's why abstract photography has always captivated me. Who knows.

Here are some photos I took today, after work, after I walked George. He pulls too hard on his leash to also be holding a camera, so I took a separate snowy walk. I keep reminding myself to buy boots but keep forgetting. And now winter should be over.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I took a few of these last holiday season, 2013, a few over Thanksgiving leaving Boston/NY on a Greyhound, a few others from other years. Just a few photos to hold my focus as I enter this season of giving up a few vices to focus on a few interests.

Life in Abstract: thoughts on change and sameness

I have recently become obsessed with a lot of things. Process. New artists. Abstract photography. Vivian Maier's work, newly discovered. Bill Cunningham bicycling through New York with his bright smile and brilliant eye. And that blue jacket. Georgia O'Keeffe's portraits of New York and the cityscapes. Alfred Stieglitz. Their marriage. Pops of color. Reds and purples, together. Random pairings. Togetherness. Opposites. Bargain hunting and treasure seeking at Goodwill. Going there before work some days for inspiration. Pretending to be trying clothes on for size when in all actuality, spying on conversations in the dressing rooms, writing down blips of reality. Admiring the independence and style of fellow treasure hunters perusing where they feel safe.

I've taken a fascination to all things abstract. The undefined. The unREfined. The unaware. Changes in the midst of sameness. Black and white photography with no focus. Blurs. Flashing lights caught on a camera without using a flash. Darkness. Greys. Gray areas. Smeared red lipstick on coffee mugs, resting on legs in black and white. No flash. Flash. The chill of March winds accidentally caught inside the half-open lens.

Abstract moments. If that's a thing. Catching your therapist in a deep breath, hand glance, momentary eye close. Watching a lone rain drop drip down the cracked windshield. Witnessing a colleague slouched over her steering wheel in tears, turned away.

I went to church this morning and then came home and took a really long nap. With as much writing as I do in the constant notebook, I have not written anything about my dad's recent heart attack. In Manila. And the trauma the kids were dealing with. But today after church and then a lunch with church people, I slept all day. I don't have as much of a grasp on emotions or language right now. I haven't processed the whole of this yet. What this means for his future, and mine. I have a lot of processing to do. A lot of words to throw on the page, like Pollock on the floor of his studio. That will be me, frantically penciling when I am capable of emotion. Now it would read numb, because I'm still in the numbing period. I've watched E and Z emerge largely unscathed, still. I've watched the embraces and E groping dad and sobbing. Relief overflows me, as I realize she is not a sociopath and she does experience emotion. And this is a period of grief for all, and you don't have to have someone you cherish die in order to grieve.

When I awoke from the very long nap I did not feel rested. My mom had been knocking on the door, upset that I was not joining her downstairs in the family room where she'd lit a fire. She has been on my case about spending time together. I need space. A lifelong introvert needs time to process. To reflect, without bodies all around. To be alone. Where I've never felt lonely. I crave rest but also just sheer, unadulterated TIME. Space. The ability to empty out in order to fill again. That is crucial for me, and it's good to be aware of what one needs. I don't WANT alone time, I actually NEED to be alone. To find my center again. To be able to give again. To give of myself. To give to others. To feel full and whole again. To not be so scattered, which is the key word lately.

During church I came to the realization, upon discovering we were in the period of Lent, that I needed to give up Facebook and alcohol. Just 40 days. I convinced myself to just give up wine, and to give up posting, but I could have rum and I could still "like" posts and photos. But who are we kidding. Self-control is my #1 weakness, and with my addictive personality I decided it would be healthy to give up both, cold turkey (as much as 40 days can appear to be "cold turkey"). But THEN I convinced myself that I wouldn't write anything if I didn't see "likes" and I told myself I could post once a week, to keep with the writing and all. But if I'm going to stick to this commitment, I have to give up Facebook altogether. I can still write. I started this lifestyle blog mostly to sort out my thoughts, many years ago now. It will be no pressure. I can still write daily, and posted the link in case anyone feels like joining my journey to self. We're all just walking each other home, anyways (Ram Dass, love that quote).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


I am in a period of life transition. I can either go one way, completely another way, or stay the same way. I'd like to go the "completely another" way, will probably go one way, and am terrified of staying the same way. The attractiveness of the first two is the verb "go." The frightening aspect of the latter is the word "stay."

I'm without ties now, truly. And shouldn't be feeling fear. The "go" of my soul is rearing its beautiful head. All I see in my future is train trips and open road. Books and paper and chai tea from all over the country. Steinbeck's path and Vincent Millay's prompts.

I find myself writing lists of quotes on Goodreads, sharing them on Facebook so I remember. Liking the photos of fellow vagabonds. They're doing it. They've made it happen. Drafted out maps, logged miles.

The most beautiful sight is a map with squiggly lines to signify rivers. V shaped lines to reveal mountains. How much more will be revealed in the air, by the sea, through the land. Long lines drifting in and out of North American landscape.

Settling in cities for one day or maybe two, exploring the anonymity of the rural. The frenzy of the urban. Like in Ireland, where money was no matter and travel was the only goal and writing was a side effect.

This go around writing is the goal. Trains are the vessel. Self the end result. Whitman, Thoreau, Steinbeck, Millay, White, Cantwell, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, beats, poets, essayists, artists my fellow travelers.

I am not afraid to call myself a writer. I am a writer. I am not afraid to call myself a vagabond. I am a vagabond. I am not ashamed to call myself a flaneur. I am a flaneur.

I am a Leo. A lover. Confident. Self-assured. Shy then loud-sometimes. Funny but slow to entertain. Laugher. Crier, but only when I'm comfortable. Self -seeker. Introvert. Daughter, sister.

I think this is all bullshit, wish I could write more maturely, wish I didn't always feel 15.

My therapist asks, "How old do you feel right now?" every time I explain a stressor of my daily life. At the beginning of therapy, I'd say "eight." Then it was 10. Now I'm 13. Making progress. Perhaps by the end of analysis I'll have caught up. I'll have turned 29, right as 30 rolls around.

In the front of my mind, I know this is all first world problems. But they're happening. To me. And they matter. I wish they didn't, but they do and when I'm fifty, maybe I'll feel thirty. Maybe the transition will be easier. Or less difficult to process.