Hi. That's me. Baby me. Toddler me. Right about the age my son is now. The seventies, man. My brother had given me a haircut, *just before* school pictures. Mom was pleased. :sarcasm font: I think it worked for me.
1970s... Avocado greens and chocolatey browns and burnt oranges and that putrid vomit-colored maize-yellow. Bell-bottoms. My Mom's disco albums. Yeah, vinyl. I learned to dance the Hot Chocolate from one of them. I learned about (and fell in love with) Donna Summer from another.
I saw my grandparents a lot. I had one grandmother who delivered Avon, knew everyone in town (and they still mention her, to this day) and she lived in house dresses (look it up, they're like mu mus..) I had another grandmother who was a NOW (National Organization for Women) cardholder, worked in the city, commuted in sneakers and changed to pumps at the office, knew all the subways, and took us to see Broadway shows once a year. One was Grandma...one was Mimi. Can you guess who was who?
I loved them both, dearly. But I associated with Mimi the most. Honest. Eye-rolling. Sharp-tongued. A riotous and often inappropriate sense of humor, behind closed doors. She was the one who'd laugh so hard that tears would stream down. I get my fire, my sass, my passion, the marinara in my veins, my joie de vivre...from that side. The Italian side.
My other Grandmother, on my father's side (British/Dutch/Canadian)... had lessons to teach, just in her presence. In her stories. I wouldn't appreciate them until much later. They lived hard through the depression, my father's parents, and they both worked at Grumman. They had four boys, and they both worked, and rarely saw each other. They were scrappy, they had to be. They were thrifty, because they learned to be. My grandmother, boy, she could... make a dollar holler. She hit up garage sales, tag sales, thrift stores, and always gave to others the little that she could. We often got new school clothes from the rag bag (donated clothes that we got from the church in Glen Cove, cheap). So she'd often give us things to help out, even though they weren't Rockefellers, either. She wasn't a barrel of laughs or charm or high-fashion. She was a tough old broad. She got hit by a Mack truck crossing the street and broke a hip, in her... sixties? She was up an delivering Avon again, pretty soon after. That's how she was. Tough as nails. Vocal. Opinionated. In your face if you didn't submit. I get my grit and low-bullshit-meter from her.
My childhood was informed by some powerful women, although I didn't see it at the time. I won't tell you about MY mother, because, well, she's alive and well and reads this and it's just none of your business.
But my grandmothers: one was fighting the patriarchy, working, earning her worth as best as she could, trying to lift that glass ceiling up... just a bit. Caring for herself, putting herself first. She came from an Italian family that let the boys go to college and the girls... learned to cook and keep a husband happy. From the get-go, she said... "this stinks." She just knew how wrong it was, how it didn't align with who she was. My mother's side is where I get a lot of my... resistance to conform into a role. Like Becky Sharp, Scarlet O'Hara, Jo March, and so many other controversial figures of women in literature. I will hardly just go and be a wife... Because this fire burns inside... for more. For passion, for exploration, for challenge, for vibrance, for intellect, and color and travel and excitement. For a LIFE, not a sentence.
And I think, through most of her life, (I have a recording of an oral history I did with her, that I cherish), she silently stewed and let a fire grow inside, that would emerge later. And it did.
They're both gone, now, all of my grandparents are, and I feel it's okay to discuss them here.
So entwined with my current writing, Wild Horses and Mistakes, I set out on an intentional journey... call it shamanic, call it psychology, call it catharsis, call it healing the inner child, call it whatever you want... it's all the same to me, with different labels. We are but a story, and we can revisit our stories and pull meaning out, to inform the present. It's all a big spiral dance, around and around and around.
We go through childhood and collect all these stories, these ideas, that other people make up about us, and if we already feel small... we believe them. And it takes years and years of crawling out of those stories, and becoming our own people.
I can see it now, the whole pattern, as it's taught to us (of course, not everyone follows this):
birth: we're given a name, an identity, and put into the "system"
school years: our teachers teach us to memorize things, and often scold us for our originality or finding our own answers. We're often dumbed down for being resourceful or creative. It must be done their way, or we get "bad marks." So, we must get good marks, and so we conform. And often, if we're lucky, we find those one or two special teachers or counselors, that connect... and keep us going.
college: optional, but many take this route. To... fit the right mold to get the right job, to "be what they want," so they get hired to work for someone else's dream.
then...marriage, kids, two cars, vacations: and so we get out of school, we find careers, we find a partner to play this game alongside us. And for a while it's good, life is good. We played a good game, we got there! We did it! We ticked off everything on the card, look!
And then... those lost embers of glowing imagination, of magic, of dreams, of non-conformity start to bubble up through the cracks and demand change. This isn't what I thought. I did everything right, how come I'm not happy? I have a good life? Enter the mid-life crisis. Sometimes, if they're lucky and already have a healthy relationship, couples ride through it together and they both change. Often, they split because one will not change for whatever reason. Or worse, they stay together, yet grow apart, living a show within a show, for the kids, for the neighbors, and everyone is miserable.
Or... maybe you're still single, and none of that affects you at all, and you just feel like you're in a hamster wheel. Waiting for real life to start. For that ship to come in. For something to finally make sense and give you the unmistakable direction that you've been seeking. We've a got a wacky sort of society that breaks us apart and we scramble to put ourselves together again, later in life. And some of us don't make it that far, we become that system and lose our identities, altogether. (But not really, I truly believe that there is always a spark that stays lit.)
I'm not sure what I'm rambling about today, it feels a bit messy. And maybe that's the point, but it has to do with childhood, dreams, and how our fears and self-esteem are managed. I look at this little bright-faced girl and I wonder how she did it. How did she make it to now? And she can't tell me, because she had no idea. She was a child. Innocent. She just woke up and showed up. it was later that she started hiding and living in made-up worlds that made much more sense.
I've been doing this work, this self-study, this inner-journey for a few years now. And at the outset, it was about the present and the immediate stresses of life. And then it was about adulthood, in general, and then adolescence. And so on. It's like time-traveling, revisiting my life, all the way back to here... to early childhood. I think deep within each of us are these innocent children who want to play, dream, fly, sing, dance, and maybe see outer space. And it doesn't always work out that way, because we start believing in the limitations that others give us, throughout our growing up.
And this... is the mess. The bags, the burdens, the stifled dreams in our backpack, that we walk through life with. Unrealized dreams. Attention not given. Perceptions of love withheld. Mistakes, abuses, pain, trauma, fear. Carried forward, in our bones, in our minds, in our memories. Our...mess.
I first got into this intentional self-development, living with my eyes and heart wide open, fully aware, life-out-loud, hoping to heal. To get there. To that place, where I healed it all. And life would be a walk in the sunshine where nothing caused me trouble anymore, because I did all my work. Yay, I'm fixed, let's go heal the world! :throws glitter in the air:
:insert ironic laugh here:
No, unfortunately. And for me, freedom, epiphany, boundless creativity, inner change and transformation comes not in my ultimate and grand healing... but in deep acceptance that I will always have this pack on my back; my mess. My stuff. That stuff can change, things go in, things come back out. New experiences and joy go in, fear and pain go out. But then with adventure comes risk, and more sometimes more pain, so in that goes. And this, I think, is Life. That pack will always be there, it's my story, it's who I am and where I've been. And stories change... I'm constantly emptying and refilling the pack. But I'm owning it. Seeing it, knowing it, being with it. And traveling along anyway, open and trusting, knowing that pack will always be there. And that's okay. Because we've all got one. And I start thinking more about... searching through each other's backpacks rather than... feigning perfection. Because it's a lie. One I won't buy anymore.
And that little girl? That young, sweet, innocent little Stacie? She's still in there and when she's scared or nervous or overly exuberant or excitable, I just carry her too, with everything else. I pick her up, hold her close, and carry her with me (symbolically, of course). Because I can keep her safe and I can do my best to bring her what she wants. I think that's what all of our anxieties are about, really. That little young boy or young girl that has fears and anxieties and doubts and worries... but also, also... big dreams and hope and resilience and magic and wildness and that wonderful, playful, beautiful optimism.
Hello, heart. I see you. I'm listening.
As many of my readers know, I am a big advocate for anxiety. I've been through it, in every possible manifestation. My mind has entertained every possible reality or un-reality, in my lifetime. So...I know.
I just get it, like that. I'd out-weird you in 3 milliseconds.
That said, I've been paying attention to my own ebbs and flows, lately. Because the point...the meaning... the message in ALL OF THIS... is to keep learning and keep sharing out. When we focus on ourselves, and our small, narrow spot on this hunk of rock, we become overwhelmed and anxious and get stuck. But when we flip it, find the lesson, and share it...we let it cycle through us. In and then out.
I've often wanted to survey people with anxiety and "personality disorders" and look for common denominators. I know straight off how many folks have gifts that they struggle with and it often results in anxiety, depression, cyclic emotions. And there are ongoing debates about this: is it mental or spiritual? Was John of God...a true healer and mystic? Or would the DSM categorize him as mentally ill, and his followers as naive fools? Or do we just not know enough yet about the brain, mind, soul to even guess? This is an ages-old debate, and there is no answer. It's like trying to solve and impossible riddle; God or not? Things that can't be proven or disproven take on a special sheen, an allure of the unknown, they become surrounded with mystique and drama and excitement and worship. Because it engages us in searching. it's delicious, we get to go on a quest. A journey.
I'd also be curious to see how many of us, who struggle with these ways of seeing and being in the world, have been close to death. And this is a part of my new writing project...how a near-death experience can create pathways into new and alien understandings, never before witnessed. And how those moments change us, eternally. And I think true anxiety stems from something so simple: awareness. To be awake, alive and attentive in one's life, is to notice. To notice what is happening all around us, to internalize and empathize and wonder. To associate and try to understand. Always questioning. And such awareness leads to deeper awareness, within. It's a true paradox: because to remain in safety, in the middle, not disturbed by the goings-on of the physical world, is to be disconnected to much of Life. Numb. It's a bit of a bubble-wrap existence. Which sometimes, is needed and preferred, for our own well-being. But on the other side of that, if we venture out...we face those unknowns, which induce fear, anxiety, panic...there's no easy way about it. Unless, you are numb and in the deep-seated routines of our mechanized society, like Cipher...back in The Matrix, enjoying his steak, and are truly oblivious. Ignorance as bliss.
I once saw this psychic, out in Dix Hills, her name was Karen. She was the most in-tune, spot on, detail-driven reader that I'd ever seen. She had a true gift. I do believe, and know, that some of us have true gifts, and now more than ever. Although there are also plenty of enterprising folks who are great actors and will gladly take your money to confirm that yes... you are sad and "your soulmate is coming. Please by the True Love candle for $20 and light it on the full moon." It's an old line and they all use it, because it's such a common plight. Be wary of those. I call them "record-players," because they all repeat each other. They are well-trained and play on insecurities, they can read body language and subtle cues.
Those with true gifts have met and communicate with Spirit and can read subtle energies. They gather clues and symbols from the ether...and steer through the fog to some Truth that resonates with you, that helps you, that validates concern and points you toward a path of healing and growth. True psychics are teachers, sharers, ponderers...they just can't not. They often make money, but they can't not share, or their gifts will literally tear at their psyche propelling them into distress and disorder. Often they have troubled pasts until they come to terms with what they are experiencing. It's really fun when they're skeptics because it turns everything upside-down. Anyway. I greatly admire those true teachers, I've been very, very blessed and humbled to have crossed paths with some who are really out of this world. Selfless, humble, kind, compassionate, and never enabling. Always empowering, even when it's hard. Role-models. Superheroes, in my eyes. Living to teach and inspire and not indulging in nonsense. Which is also teaching; it's leading by example and showing us how to set boundaries. My heart goes out to them, my soul honors them; deep bow, deep bow in gratitude.
But Karen... well, she gave me specific dates, she did auto-writing, and everything panned out, perfectly. She wrote down the birthdate of my son...years and years before I met his father. She just saw things. A beautiful soul, one that melded with and changed mine, as some special souls do. And way back when, she also made a comment that always stuck with me: "I see squirrels in the attic. You're sitting there, watching life from the second-story window. You're commenting, and watching, and imagining, and pointing. Packing away your little nuts and berries, for later. You're safe. But you're not really living, are you? You're watching."
Wow. Haunting. For years and years. No more attic windows, I declared.
And writing, well...it's a peculiar thing. To me writing...is like a self-inflicted torture. It's isolating, challenging, heartbreaking, scintillating, exhausting, invigorating, maddening, and yet...it's salvation. It's induced madness, it's breaking your own heart, it's bleeding for art, constantly. And i love it. <sicko
But it does keep me in "the attic." Which is why I always push myself out. A new adventure, a new story, a new enchantment, a new mode of creativity to employ. Something to start the creative fires burning, something to make me feel alive, something to connect me, enliven me, jumpstart me. I'm someone who must feel and live the bits of story before I write them. That doesn't mean Ana was autobiographical, but that certain scenes and moments were flavored with truth, from actual experience. Well, some...Antonio was made up. A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste. :)
And the current project is also inspired by real-life. Lessons that are lived through, painfully, in many cases. It's a bit psychotic, to intentionally hurl myself into lesson-bearing experiences, but I'm learning loads, and at the end of the day, I get to be someone who can lay out some cold, hard truth, from the ground, from the front-lines of Life...to throw it back to those stuck in the mud: Here are some things that work...you're not alone...and you can absolutely get through this. What a gift to even be able to do that. Grateful for every encounter so far, in this Campbell-esque journey, truly. Deeply. I take none of it for granted.
So, one thing I became keenly aware of in my throes of anxiety, a few years back, was the isolation. Having an entire world to fear, a thousand voices, every word a possible threat, and not being able to explain it to anyone. And the disillusionment, which is the killer for so many of us. We idealize and wear our rose-colored glasses, and when those ideals crumble, as they must, we are distraught. Illusions fall, and once again, we are naked and trembling, lost in the void, climbing out of the primordial soup, searching for anything to cling to. That's where that spark inside is found.
And it is there, right there, in that deep pit...where the choice is made. Give up, start the dying process. Become bitter and stagnant and lost in your pain. Or fight. Lost your mind? Make a new one. Reconfigure your life as you would your hard-drive. Defrag and dump what doesn't work, limit interactions and input to those that can lift you up, inspire you, remind you why it's worth it. Environment is key, internal and external. We are amazing, resilient, self-healing machines. As much as I jokingly bash tech, I admit that we, human beings, are incredible, electric machines that work on and with energy. It's all the same, I see that now.
And anxiety can be crippling. It can stop us from living the lives that we want to. But there are ways to reinvent ourselves, find focus, notice and steer away from destructive behavior when we need to, our own or someone else's, and find ourselves back where we should be...within ourselves, present, alert, and ready to experience Life. Committed to the work, which is different for each of us.
And for me, spirituality has been a cornerstone. And it's non-negotiable, it's a reality for me. Religion is not, but spirituality is. It's an undercurrent, a coming-home, a knowledge and wisdom, deep inside, that we're all connected. I've seen it and felt it. That unconditional Love is real, that these connections are real. And that God is Love, and that we can heal with Love. Which is why I have no problems when people get religious around me, because I don't put men in white robes or any of that into my equation. So I don't get turned off, really. Each individual has their own God or figure head in place, to represent that pure Love. God is Love, I might even go so far as to say that God can be... all of us, aligned, in service to each other, for Love. I might say that we, collectively, joined in consciousness, are God, or at the very least, channels for God/Love/Universal energy to flow through. And how often we forget to connect, within. MEDITATE. It starts within.
Love, the most powerful force in the Universe. The most formidable weapon that we have against hate. But don't listen to me, I'm a hippie. Naive. I take kick after kick, live in constant disillusion, and still choose to understand and Love people that don't understand me. And that's fine. I don't do it to get it back, I do it because the world needs it. Because when we send out those tendrils of hope, compassion, understanding, when we resonate and acknowledge, a new world is born, leaving its new inhabitants changed...hopefully for the better. I believe in waves and ripples, I believe that energy is contagious, I believe that it's never a mistake to genuinely care for someone and wish for their best.
And it doesn't always work, because...anxiety, all around. We're brilliant on our own, wrapped in our art and our safe spaces. And then we interact. Enter variables. It's become an act of courage and bravery to be the first one to consider perspective, and choose empathy. To put down the shield, to lower our guards and say...hey... it's all good. We're cool. Go do you. Nothing but Love, here. And yes, it's exhausting and confusing and trying and sometimes, we make mistakes. And there are times we need mile-high barriers because not everyone means us well.
Because we are also human and fallible. And we get nervous and confused and we overthink and get further and further away from those little kids inside of us that just want to play, and we put up these walls to push people back and away from us, because we just don't know if we can trust them. Because Life is hard, and things suck, and we grow weary. That happens. Oh well. But I still Love. Like one of those inflatable dolls that you punch and it bounces back, smiling like a dope. < yeah, me. Let me try this again, I know I'll get it right this time. But not forever, I know when to let go and move along. And we're just not compatible with everyone. (I'm like a fungus though, I grow on people. :) Just give it time...)
Anyway, I'd rather walk through Life knowing and appreciating this magic, this force, that connects and drives us. If its all in our heads, why choose to live in a self-created hell? No, not for me. Not anymore. I allow myself to flow in and out and experience different ways of being, to gather perspectives. I will take any hardship or challenge and spin it around and try...try... to make something beautiful with it. Sometimes we can't. But I always try, first. Gullible? Maybe. But determined to spread Love and sincerity and wide-open humiliating heart-sharing wherever I can. Because we need it. I've wanted to rebuild the world in Love since high school. Finally, all these years later, it feels like the world is catching up. Or...I'd just been in the wrong places and didn't see or feel it. Environment.
Many think that being spiritual, is being religious. Believing in a God-head, following a set of rituals, and all the rest. Not so. True spirituality is found in our humanity. In compassion, kindness, altruism, loving attention, forgiveness. Seeing the best in people and urging them on. Planting seeds of hope and encouragement, to combat the negativity that surrounds us. Choosing to hold the torch...the lamp... beside the golden door. To illuminate the path. To support, without harm. To acknowledge, to appreciate. To understand. And this is huge. I think one thing that an anxious, deep-thinking mind craves, more than anything, is understanding. That moment of: I see you, I get you, you're not nuts, I think that stuff too. Lots of people do. You're not alone, in there. There is a huge clan of us that see the world differently and take in the world in different ways. We're all weird and squirrely. And we're all in it together. <3