From Love

jenine durland how to love elephant journal

How to Love: Have the Courage to Break Your Own Heart

Read the full article by Jenine Durland on Elephant Journal here.

Excerpt: “There are moments in life when, sitting still, you feel the whole universe flow through you, when you recognize that we are indeed oceans and rivers and the channels of starts.

You see, too, that the path to healing is an inward one, and that there is wonder and beauty and adventure there.”

Full article:

This morning as I sit with the magnitude of a romantic relationship changing course, receding and reshaping itself into what, we do not know, I’m struck mostly by how we associate our hearts with this romantic love—love for one another.

How we can feel so abandoned when we forget to feed ourselves.

In the namesake essay for her collection of amazing advice columns, “Tiny Beautiful Things”, Cheryl Strayed writes a letter to her younger self. She says:

You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.

This morning I am brave enough. Just barely.

I sit with the knowledge that this is all a part of our unfolding, of our becoming, and I smile looking at the painting he made here beside me. It is so beautiful, not so much for the art itself, but for what it represents: our ability to create beauty from a blank page.

Cheryl continues, You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

But how we linger at every dam, each impasse and braid in the river, waiting for our lover to catch up or slow down, wondering what will be. We must let the current carry us. No one quite knows what the journey will be, only that eventually we return to where we came from. And we must sit with the discomfort, shine our light on it fully.

In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about soul mates:

People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet because they tear down your walls and smack you awake.

But to live with you soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful.

Then Cheryl: Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

That night after we talked and cried and said words of love with our goodbyes, we went to Kirtan. The woman led the handful of us through chants with two guitars and we sat crosslegged next to one another as we made music. For the last song, the woman gathered us into a circle and asked us all to hold hands. She showed us the sidestep we’d use and how we’d spin around at each chorus. The chant was simple: “The ocean refuses no river. Hallelujah!”

There are moments in life when, sitting still, you feel the whole universe flow through you, when you recognize that we are indeed oceans and rivers and the channels of stars.

You see, too, that the path to healing is an inward one, and that there is wonder and beauty and adventure there.

Like me, you will find that there is also sadness. Sit with that too. Honor everything and open to it all. As the poet Galway Kinnell once wrote:

…angels shiver to know down here we mortals make love with our bones.

We are lucky to know pleasure and pain, to know in our bones what love feels like—to give love, to receive love, to let go of those we loveThis is what we humans do, even when it hurts, even when we’re breaking our own hearts, we must have the courage to go on, the courage to feel the love that will light our way.

Galway knows this too. He is a poet, afterall. He closes his ode to the heart and the “music of grace that we hear, sometimes, playing from the other side of happiness” with these words:

But when I hear

coming through the walls

those grace-notes…

that the two hearts drummed

out of their ribs together,

the hearts that know everything (and even

the little knowledge they can leave

stays, to be the light of this house),

 

then it is not so difficult

to go out, to turn and face

the spaces which gather into one sound the singing

of mortal lives, waves of spent existence

which flow toward, and toward, and on which we flow

and grow drowsy and become fearless again.

 

Bon voyage—may our ships be the brightest stars in the sky.

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Write What You Love #1

The ask: Can you write about what you love?

#1
Animal, Vegetable, Mineral…

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Planting

I am in love with this crazy beautiful thing called life. This spring I started my first vegetable garden. I was lucky to have a planter box ready, full of loose earth and weeds that offered so little resistance. In my hands I held small paper packets of mesculin, baby lettuce, Siberian kale, and Swiss chard. I’d also bought an Early Girl tomato starter, its single stalk about a foot tall, and a 4 pack of baby spinach, their tender-looking leaves each about the size of a child’s mouth, open in awe.

Growing my own food these last 3 months has already brought so much joy into my life. There may be nothing more startling than scattering a palm-full of seeds, covering them up with a thin layer of soil, watering and watering for days and weeks with no change, until that one day when you go to wet the earth and see a tiny shoot curling up and away. When mine first came up, I wanted to name them. You there on the outskirts, you’re Allen, and you here with the double-leaf-tip, you are Esmeralda!
There is no substitute for wonder.

Thinning

Each day I’d bring water and I’d smile, looking at all the green stalks poking up, a small army of sprouts. I felt proud, the closest I imagine to how a mother would feel, seeing all these fresh, young starts, feeling the potential for so much bounty.

The first time I grew cilantro and chard at my old house, I did nothing besides water. Soon, the small plastic containers were thick like grass with the seedlings. As the leaves grew bigger, I noticed dark splotches forming all over their surfaces. They were crowded, but I figured the plants themselves would work it out—grow tall, grow sideways, something, and then I could transplant them. But the splotches got worse, soon covering all the plants, so I did what we do—I posted to Facebook. A friend linked to the scientific explanation, telling me in simple language, “You must thin your plants.”

You’d think such a step would be easy—the plants are so small, their slim green bodies not even an inch tall, smaller than a blade of grass…they have no feelings or physical sensations that we know of, but man. I put it off for days.
Each morning I’d come down with the water and see if any of the sprouts looked unhealthy—the leaves eaten by insects or some defect, but they all looked the same, green and lively, and, to my detriment, I actually thought they looked cute. I’d find myself greeting them in that high-pitched voice we mostly reserve for babies.

But as memories of my failed cilantro and chard settled in, I began to wonder at my irresponsibility. Maybe I shouldn’t have sprinkled quite so many in the first place? I thought of the Native Americans and even though I have no actual proof of this, I imagined some woman wrapping up individual seeds at the end of the harvest, storing them somewhere safe and dry. I’ll admit that the image I played in my head was more like the logo for some seed company: two palms cupping a single seed above a perfect little hole in the ground. The seed in this picture is roughly the size of an almond, though, not the reality of the sesame-like seeds I was dealing with.

After letting my mind have its last fun, I took a breath, and began to pinch and pull. At first I tried to transplant some of the shoots, but after a day in the new location, I’d come back to find them shriveled up and collapsed back into the soil. They were too young, their roots not yet ready for the shock. Meanwhile, the other plants grew taller, their leaves doubling in width and diameter in only a few short days. I was in awe.

The tomato, which I’d bought as a seedling, needed stakes within a week, and a huge-circular trellis for its thick green arms a couple weeks after that. The spinach, which I’d also planted as seedlings, was leafing out in ever-growing circles, the smaller leaves vying for sunlight. I soon realized it was time to make my first harvest.

Harvesting

Cutting spinach and baby chard leaves, individually and discriminately the way I do, is a different feeling entirely than the thinning. Here there is no dramatic plant death. Instead there is a sense of teamwork, culling leaves so others might get the sun they need, thanking the plants for a job well done. I recently planted carrots and expect that when those are ready to be pulled from the earth, I’ll do so with a sense of satisfaction.

I realize that these plants have grown into the fullest expression of themselves. As far as their DNA is concerned, they have led a rich and full life—they have been successful in carrying out their master genetic plan. At this point early in the harvest, they’ve done everything except ensured their offspring, and some, like the tomato, has even done that.

As I cut and pick the vegetables I’ve watered and watched grow, mixing lettuce and kale, mustard greens and spinach, adding spearmint, I’ve come to see these plants as a model for our own lives. I wonder at how we might live each day as the fullest expression of our nature, even or especially with the absence of a guarantee for more.

Washing and rinsing, dressing the salad and topping with seeds—pine nuts and almonds, a bit of blue cheese, it’s hard not to feel my own true nature bubble up. There is a deep sense of purpose and satisfaction that comes from growing your own food, even if it’s just enough to make lunch. As I feed myself with a bowl of ingredients I’ve just harvested, there’s a sensation of joy, of connection, of my place in the world being clear. Human. Animal. Alive…and fully capable of sustaining myself with water and sunshine.

Regenerating

The beauty of letting our plants go to seed and pruning back the perennials comes, for me, from a sense of balance and empathy. In my body, I understand the need for rest. The garden helps remind me of the acts of creation we are capable of with enough regeneration.

We are, at the end of the day, just organisms. We will die and have our ashes scattered or our bodies buried. In these ways, our carbon will live on in the plants and animals that continue in our absence, our fluids watering the world. We know this. Death is no secret to our species, despite our efforts to deny it, draw it out, live each moment devoid of its presence.

Out here in California, our growing seasons stretch out and confuse even her natives like me. When I used to plant bulbs in the fall in Colorado, we knew that they’d come up as soon as the snow melted in late spring. Here, there is no such logic. You’ll find yourself walking through a tropical paradise in the middle of February. And we humans, too, lose our hibernation.

Growing up in Berkeley in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, it used to rain. A lot. Come December, our bedrooms would carry the rank sent of mildew and our towels always seemed a little bit damp. You wore more sweaters and you stayed inside. This new California—the one paralleling the frenetic tech boom in San Francisco—is entirely new to me. And somewhat overwhelming.

For spring equinox this year, I went to a yoga class where our teacher dedicated the practice to grounding, focusing on drawing energy out of the earth and into our feet. She talked about the seasons, how she felt like she’d missed all the hibernation and energy storage of the winter. Now that spring was here, she said, she just felt exhausted.
The class was spent drawing out restorative poses, with lots of slow movements and floor work. I, too, was feeling overwhelmed by the go-go-go energy of spring, and had just begun experiencing my first anxiety attacks. Every time I rose up into mountain pose in class, I grew lightheaded and had to drop to the ground.

The climate of California allows her inhabitants to live in a bit of a la-la land: to eat strawberries in the dead of winter, to wear shorts year-round, and to work at companies that encourage employees to eat, play, and even sleep at work. And don’t get me wrong, I do love California, but our resources are running thin; we must encourage rest.
“When you don’t have a winter,” my yoga teacher said, “you can’t open up and grow in the same way. And without more water, the plants will all die.”

Each time I lose a plant to slugs, or have to cut one back to make room for another, I think about this cycle. I try to accept and even welcome the beginnings and the ends. I eat my artichokes, enjoying the flesh of each thick leaf in full knowledge that this is it—that they won’t come back till next year, and for this, for this period of absence I am grateful. I dare say, I love those artichokes even more.

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The Holes in Our Hearts

ie. what happens after the ‘happily ever after’

The rain is falling for the second time this week, the air just beginning to feel like February, thick with fog and wet enough to carry the whistles of the trains up here into the hills. This morning, out in my pyjamas and a raincoat with the dog, I thought about the evening my new man and I spent last night. How easy it is to be around each other, how lovely.

There was the conversation that neither one of us knows how to have. The one that floats in theoretical abstractions and ‘I feel’ statements that never seem to find their way to the ground. It is a conversation that boils down to: I care; I’m freaked out because I care; I’m happy; I’m scared of being hurt. It’s one of those moments in a new relationship where you acknowledge your connection– a tightrope you’re not yet sure how to walk.

Earlier on the couch I’d told him that I was happy and content, that whatever was going on with our connection was something new and special, that I didn’t have any of the insecurities and jealousy and fears I’ve had in all my other relationships. When I asked him how he felt, he said that our connection was unlike anything he’d experienced. That he felt really good. It seemed hard for him to say; he’d changed the subject halfway through the first line before eventually returning to finish the thought.

When I’d first arrived, scooching up to sit on his kitchen counter while he fried garlic from his lauded freeze-dried Trader Joes cubes, he’d told me about an awkward phonecall with his landlord. I’d listened to the story–how the landlord had agreed to do a reference letter but had said no to compensating him for his Ikea improvements–watching as he looked at the racks he’d installed, then said, “So I guess I’ll be taking those with me.” Then he asked if I thought he’d get dinged for the holes in the walls.

In my head, I went over all the stuff I knew he was dealing with…

“Well,” I said, “to be honest, it seems like you’re getting caught up in things that won’t really matter in the long run. Once the big picture gets sorted,” I went on, my wine glass raised in one hand as we danced around each other and the splattering salmon, “once you have some security and know where you’ll be moving and when and for how much, things like this won’t be a big deal. You’ll be able to patch up those holes in a second.” And he’d looked at me and then the wall and said, “Yah, you’re right.”

Later, back on the couch, my head on his knee facing him, he’d said that intimacy was still so hard. That he felt actual recoil, though he didn’t tell me when. He told me he was worried about boundaries and attachment and being able to keep up his connections with friends, and even though my belly told me just to say, “thank you for sharing” and go back to resting my head on his chest, acknowledging that all of this is a process, a journey, and that we are ok in this moment, the rest of me dove right into worrying about those holes.

I told him a lot, and then I told him I trusted him. And then there it was, all of our insecurities and anxieties and unanswerables out on the table.

I think of that Buddhist teaching, “You must learn to sit with the questions themselves.”

He reached for me when I came out of the bathroom, after explaining how I’d need to jiggle the handle and I’d bent myself over the toilet bowl, attempting to stop the flow. When I turned back around, commenting on the night light, he was there looking at me with a face that beckoned me in, with arms that wrapped around. We hugged, squeezing each other so tight that I could feel the hollow of his sternum and the bone of his pelvis, and we looked at each other and, briefly, softly kissed.

The honest truth is that we do not know. And we never will. I’ve come to realize that the closest I’ll ever come to peace is found in the six inches between my heart and my belly. When I walk from that place, when I trust myself, my body is balanced and my feet are steady; I find the reassurance of rope.

He made a sound after that hug. It was after we released, after he’d asked if I wanted to hear him play guitar and we’d turned, me in front, him behind with his hands on my shoulders. It was like a sigh, a whoosh of air that seemed to say all at once we are good and we don’t know, and then his hands there on my shoulders, and mine on top of his, guiding us forward.

There’s a poem that sits on my desk, its pages folded accordion-style so all you can know is that first page. It reads, “The only true thing is”

Hey, I Need You

by Claire Lukens

I recently went through a breakup. That phrase feels apt, went through a breakup, even though I initiated it – as if it was something that was done to me, an ordeal to be endured. Something from which I emerge on the other side.

The end of the relationship had been a long time coming. Then, finally, we had a weekend in which we connected hardly at all, tiptoeing around what neither of us wanted to be the first to say, and which left me feeling unwanted. There’s no way around it. Unwanted–the thing that I could not endure or explain away, the thing that left me feeling broken.

So we had perhaps the easiest breakup conversation I have ever had. He expressed fear at losing some of our mutual friends, of hurt propagating through our social circle in this tiny town. But I am not worried about that. I am not hurt by any wrongdoing, on his part or mine, only by the fact that we simply didn’t have the passion necessary to carry us through hard times.

I am relieved not to feel stuck, to know that I was missing something but lacking the guts to go look for it. (Cue the cheesy quote: Life’s too short to waste it with people that don’t make you happy.) But I am also left with a hole, a place where comfort and acceptance could be found. I am spending more time alone at home, drinking wine with my dog cuddled up against me.

And, perhaps because I am an introvert, my first instinct to feeling lonely – to feeling wounded, undervalued, unwanted – is to hole up in myself, to find a safe place to curl up, where I don’t need anyone else to make me feel okay. Recognizing that I really need some support, I call a friend and leave a voicemail. Hey, just calling to tell you that I love you and say hi . . . gimme a call when you get a chance. . . . I don’t want to impose my sadness on my friends, so I don’t tell them I need them until they call back several days later and I erupt into tears. So I’m working on reaching out when I need support, asking for hugs and tea and hangout time. Leaving voicemails that say, Hey, I need you. Recognizing that my introverted tendencies do not exempt me from needing to feel wanted, worthy, loved.

I am also coming to terms with the rising fear that comes with dating in your 30s, the little voice that says “If I give up on this guy, am I giving up my chance to have kids?” Part of me knows that this is ridiculous, that I have time, that I have options.

That I need to be in love with the father of my children. And not just comfortable love, but whole-body-and-soul love, with-my-entire-being love. It’s easy to wonder if that love is out there for me, if I have missed my shot somewhere along the way.

I expressed this thought to one of my besties recently, and she looked at me dumb-founded. She reminded me of my own words to her a few months earlier, when she was feeling similarly alone. I had told her how, in the core of my being, I knew that she had a big love out there waiting for her. And it’s true, I do – she’s a truly amazing woman, and there’s simply no question in my mind that she’ll make someone over-the-moon grateful to be with her.

“You know that feeling, that confidence?” she told me. “I feel exactly the same way about you.”

I don’t know why it’s so hard to hold that confidence for myself. But it’s easier knowing that she’s holding it for me.

It Was U

By Anonymous

It was…

more than a year after our devastating, drawn-out breakup. More than a year and a half from the time he had said, “I think we should take a break,” the words that began the slow, painful unraveling of our tumultuous relationship. Nine months or so into a much healthier, productive, loving relationship with a gentle man who would prove to love me unconditionally.

But my heart was still bruised.

Or maybe it was scarred. Or maybe it suffered from internal bleeding.

Either way, on this particular day, walking from the subway to teach a dance class, limping a bit because of a puzzling foot injury, I listened to this song yet again inside of my big, fat DJ headphones. It had been on repeat in my ears, each time bringing back the memory of him, of us. Something about the sentiment of the song, coupled with its ultra-sincere acapella intro, cut straight to my heart. I couldn’t turn it off.

Did I miss him? I didn’t know. Did I still love him? Probably. I wouldn’t ever stop loving him, but the same goes for any number of other men who I had loved and lost. But for some reason this song brings back all of the hurt, compiled into one 3-minute and 11-second rhythmic experience. I remember how terrible it felt to know he was never certain about his feelings for me. I remember how much I loved him, but how the whole relationship felt so uneven. I remember how cold he could be and how lonely I could feel next to him. I remember screaming and crying and begging him not to do this, not to leave me after 2 years, not to give up. These thoughts are always followed by regret that I didn’t see how I deserved better, how I spent so much time hoping things would improve, how I was never truly happy.

So there I am, limping with a throbbing pain in my left foot and the left side of my chest cavity, avoiding eye contact with everyone on the street because I’m certain if I catch anyone’s eye, I will cry. I open the door to the studio where I was to teach that afternoon and hobble in. Two of my co-workers notice the obvious irregularity in my walk and are immediately concerned, as those in physical professions are. M can see the hurt in my eyes and assumes it’s worry about my foot, my body. We’re always worried an injury could be the end of our career.

She embraces me with a giant, sincere hug, and I break down sobbing on her shoulder.

“It hurts,” I say.

“I know,” she says. “It’s scary.”

A New Beginning

By Paige Pancratz

A new beginning. What is that really? I started dating an ex lover again this past summer after being apart for 13 years. We had dated in our 20s and I was her first love. It was a brief, strong connection but ultimately I broke her heart badly. Like really badly. We happened to work the same gardening gig this past spring and there was a certain way we could share honestly about what we had learned from our most recent “failed” relationships that made me wonder, “do we have similar values?” And then there was a certain way we always ended up laughing hysterically on our ladders while trimming vines. And then there was that smile at the end of that one day and the way my body responded. And then, of course, she rides a motorcycle and took me for a ride through Garden of the Gods and it was all over. A new beginning? Not yet.

We slept together and I was gratefully reminded that she is the best kisser of all time. Things felt good. We talked a couple days later about how we both just wanted to keep things casual, that the sex is good and that’s all we’re really interested in. Let’s have a fun relationship, we decided. Perfect. I thought briefly about that Sharon Olds poem, Sex Without Love, and then I walked home excited to be connected but not totally connected.

We kept hanging out and in the next few weeks it became apparent that we were “feeling more than we expected.” Let’s talk about our feelings. So, we did. And we agreed we were falling in love. Or there was a possibility of that. Let’s start showing more of ourselves, we decided.

Then, a few months later, we broke up. I was carrying a lot of guilt from the first time we were together 13 years ago. She still carried the hurt from 13 years ago that made it hard for her to trust me. There was a lot of performing going on to prove we were more mature and well-adjusted in the world after 13 years. And then there were all the belief systems we carry around in ourselves that got really loud and defensive when we started to let each other in. We were faced with meeting ourselves where we were and it got scary. This can’t work. I’m not ready. I don’t want to be seen fully. We’re broken. I’ll decide for you that you can’t love all of me. All the stuff. The old stuff.

And then things got interesting. Thank god. Because after years and years of therapy and energy work and yoga teacher training, I was more than a little discouraged to see the same sad trajectory of another “failed” relationship. And, the usual finish/start line to this old trajectory is I arrive at 1.) I believe I’m broken and can’t be loved, and 2.) I search for someone/something new to fill that hole in me that says I’m broken. But strangely, here’s where the new beginning showed up (don’t they always show up at a perceived end?). I recognized the fear and got curious. Am I really broken? Can I really not be loved?

They say a miracle is a change in perception. (I say “they” because I can’t remember who actually said that.) And I think that is all a new beginning is, a change in perception. But how does that happen? I think you need to get really curious and be really open to letting go. Letting go of attachments to what things should look like and just show up. As you are. We know this. It seems to be in Facebook quotes a million times a day. All the pop psychology and Ted talks speak to this. So after years of hearing this advice, I tried it. I don’t think this can happen with just anyone. But I think we do know when our gut says, “try it with this one.” And maybe that’s where I’ve arrived. I finally want to be seen. I wondered if we could meet each other in our messy, scary fear of the stories we make up about ourselves that have calcified over time and look like truth. She was brave and agreed to try. Oh, shit, I thought.

And that’s where we are now. We don’t define ourselves as together. I have no idea if that’s what this is about. We only hang out periodically. We decided to shelf the sex for now (this part is difficult, but seems necessary right now). All the scaffolding I had erected to support what I thought a relationship should look like is slowly falling away. It’s weird. We agreed to one rule: she’s not allowed to show up on her motorcycle. And a few simple intentions. Let’s create a safe space to be vulnerable and show up and see what happens. Let’s let go of liking or disliking what we hear and just allow each other to speak from our hearts. Let’s admit to what hurts or feels hard and help each other understand why. We have simple therapy 101 tools like communicating with the phrases “the story I’m making up about this is” and “what I hear you saying is.” The “what the fuck is going to happen?” and “will she love this part of me?” questions aren’t going away, but, damn, they get quiet during the truth telling/seeking/remembering/supporting. And, really, isn’t this all about “do I love this part of me?” and can I do that without the scaffolding of control and reassurance and guarantee of a certain outcome? A new beginning, indeed. Happy new year!

Editor’s note: We asked Paige to share her experiences as they resonated with the Break-Up Blog. We’re so grateful to be a part of her journey.

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Two Doves

By Jenny Williams

Five days we stayed at the small hotel on the lakeshore. The heat was a heavy coat we couldn’t peel, the shower a cool hand slipped beneath the collar. We stripped below the fan and sprawled across the floor: static bodies, moving air.

I wanted more and he, less; this was the line we walked, a revolving bridge that always turned us out on the same shore.

*

Four directions on the compass, a spinning needle. Whirl a globe and halt it with a finger; shoot an arrow at an atlas. Every “there” we’d been had traded places in my mind, a game of musical countries.

In India, we made love in the ocean and drank too much gin. In Kenya, we bought wedding bracelets made from melted bullets. In Guatemala, we lay on the wood floor of a small hotel, together. Alone.

I wanted to know: How could I show the course of love on a map? Where did we stray? Where did we converge? These were the questions of landscape that mattered; this was the topography of the heart.

*

Three years we were together. The month after we met, he brought me chocolate mints and performed numerical acrobatics with my name. We sprawled across the dewy grass at a concert and I said, So this is what it’s like to fall.

He said I’d grown more beautiful in the years since, but what he meant was, I am looking for reasons to love you again.

*

Two doves, building a nest in the rafters outside our room one morning at the small hotel on the lakeshore. I watched their meticulous partnership for hours. The male flitted from roof to lawn and back again. The female fussed and trimmed and pruned and cooed, content in her domestic world.

I tried to remember the last time I hung a picture on a wall.

*

One egg, speckled perfection. It appeared that evening, whole, miraculous. When I noticed them—dove, egg—she was sitting to one side of it, her tiny head cocked in astonishment, or revelation. The egg lay inches from the edge.

There was no nest. A full day’s work and nothing but a few tangled strands at the foot of the beam. Was it a flaw of the brush, a grass that wouldn’t gather? Or had the need to lay come too soon?

Muy peligroso, murmured a woman passing. Very dangerous.

I pulled him out of the room to look.

It’s sad, he said. But what can you do?

*

You watch. You sit. You hold vigil into the night, until the dark closes in. And at dawn when you find tiny pieces of eggshell on the floor and a glistening stickiness between, you honor the thing that almost was; you mourn the thing that never became; and you think: So this is what it’s like to fall.

 

Editor’s Note: We invited Jenny Williams to share a story inspired by the Break-Up Blog–we’re so grateful that she did. For more of Jenny’s beautiful writing and art visit www.jennydwilliams.com

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Roadtrip #1 – Navy SEALS, Ice Cream & Auntying

by Jenine Durland

There are moments in life when your dreams become your reality and you’re left standing on a sand dune staring down at a bunch of dudes running an obstacle course in camou pants and t-shirts, and all you can think is, they look so young.

One thing you realize about dreams is that they aren’t always–or ever–a linear thing. Instead they meander and twist and come full circle with tangential points you didn’t even know you’d made. Like yes, when you were a teenager, you wanted to be a Navy SEAL. It was around the time that GI Jane came out, and Demi Moore helped dissuade you–temporarily–from your fixation with Top Gun long enough to plant a seed. Senior year of high school you’d stand in your kitchen clutching an early-acceptance, full-ride scholarship to a liberal arts college in one hand and an embossed, gold-leaf letter of nomination to the United States Air Force Academy from Senator Diane Feinstein in the other, and you’d cry.

You’d choose hippie college, eventually, becoming a creative writing major, befriending some amazing people, and twelve years later you’d use the port-o-potty on the SEAL’s obstacle course with one of those amazing people, also a poet, and now a Marine Corps officer, high-ranking enough to get saluted as she drives you and her dog onto the special warfare base here on Coronado.

You’re totally surprised by how chill it is. Your friend’s fluffy part-Chow, part-Golden Retriever is panting and rolling around in the sand. The only sounds are the waves of the Pacific crashing behind you. It’s a Saturday and apparently the SEALS are between sessions. You watch the two groups of guys who’ve come out to train, divided by t-shirt color–brown shirts and white shirts, your friend tells you, the browns being the ones who’ve made it through hell week, the whites are newbies– as they swing through monkey bars and climb up cargo nets and do some other circus-like stunts that involve ropes and spinning logs and jumping. You have a strong urge to try vaulting over the logs in the last section, the ones your bestie is saying she’s been having trouble with, but you’re not wearing camou, which apparently is the only thing stopping you from trying.

You can’t help but feel like a bad ass, even in civilian shorts and a tank top. You are probably strutting, you think, for once really proud of your jacked quads, the muscles like a rite of passage. It’s silly, you know. But real. You and your friend run half the length of the beach as it arcs away from the base. This is her warmup. You are summoning your strength. Her dog is so far behind he becomes just a fluffy speck. Your stomach fat is itching from all its jiggling after weeks without really exercising and you’re just so fricking smiley.

When you get back to the picnic table on top of the dunes, there’s a man with three young children pointing to each of the stations, explaining the progression of obstacles in much the same way your friend did. The kids are in bathing suits–the one girl, probably twelve, has a panther print bikini bottom and a push-up top on–and they are very serious, looking down on the rather average setting before them. It’s a landscape, you realize, that comes alive through story, through the tales of individuals whose experiences you can only guess at.

You finish the afternoon at the brewery over burgers and beer and an apple crisp loaded so tall with ice cream that the neighboring table actually stops their conversation long enough to admire the work of art. You drove seven hundred and eighteen miles to spend these last 32 hours with your friend and as you sit and sip beer and spoon whipped cream into your mouth, you start to feel overwhelmingly full. You slip the dog a small chunk of ground beef and smile as your friend says, “Your Auntie is spoiling you.” There’s something about that word that brings everything up. This, you think, finishing the last of your beer, is the fullness of family.

 

The jungle house

Unavailable Woman

By Catherine Siskron

Note from the Editor: As an integral and steadfast part of the Break-up Blog, I asked my godmother to write the first post of the new blog on the subject of being single in your sixties. Here are her words. Thank you for sharing, Catherine.

Accompanying you for the past forty days of your blog has been a chance to revisit my younger self while remaining mostly anchored in the present. How much of my own journey can I share with you and the community of your friends? You were wondering, what it is like to be single in my sixties? Actually, except for a five-year marriage (from 20 to 25) and my sojourn as your grandfather’s consort for seven years, much of my life I lived alone, in uncommitted relationships.

So before I go on, I want to tell you how much I admire your courage, your ability to communicate so many facets of yourself, your way with words that makes everything you write accessible to the heart, mind and gut…

I feel a bit melancholy. I am not used to being open, especially in writing, beyond my journal or an occasional missive to a close friend.

I wrote a draft for this entry in a blank journal I must’ve picked up in the late 80’s and only started using last month. Every page has a quote from a woman in the arts. Today’s quote is from Margaret Atwood, “The Eskimo have fifty-two names for snow because it is important to them: there ought to be as many for love…”

Perhaps we can add “healing” as a love word since it’s a lifelong project to learn more about ourselves and others and the world we occupy. It’s about staying reasonably sane in the chaos we call life.

Back to the title of this entry, “Unavailable Woman.” Like you—actually much more than you and for much longer periods of time— I thought I made myself “available” to men. I sacrificed my own wants and needs, my own bigger, wilder self to second guess men’s needs, acquiesce to their demands, help them heal, in other words to love them into compliance.  I worked on whatever man whose potential seemed irresistible to me at the moment, to prop him up so he would someday be strong enough to fulfill my dream of being held, loved, desired, emotionally and sexually fulfilled… Not a particularly kinky fantasy, and as I read your blog, perhaps still a well-trod path to happiness that does not materialize, but nonetheless, a fantasy.

I imagined myself to be an openhearted woman who loved my men unconditionally. It seemed only fair that I would expect the same in return and this expectation was the hidden, unstated, un-negotiated price that I attached to my love.  At the time I did not realize that the very fact that I could not negotiate my wants and needs, that it felt too risky to speak my truth, made my love a heavy burden.

Looking back I can see that I was an emotionally unavailable woman who chose emotionally stunted men and the pay off was that being in such a relationship I could be the “good” one—the man was so deficient in the qualities I claimed I wanted that I did not need to examine my own deficiencies.

So what is it like to be twice your age, to be single in my 60’s? Compared to my teens, twenties, thirties, forties, it’s absolutely blissful.  I started consciously working toward healing myself in my late forties. A bit late in life, I would say. Yet the change from inner drama to a much greater sense of peace, of feeling that I have choices as to how to respond even in the heat of the moment to an event in my life, and that even if I screw up, there is usually a way to remedy the problem, is a freedom that made the years of therapy well worth the hard work.

Living alone can be lonely, but not as lonely as being in a relationship where the fire has turned to ashes. And that can happen at any age.  Being alone means being free to pursue my life unfettered. The yearning for love, for passion, for companionship is still there. But it’s a yearning, not a need. I watch married couples and can’t think of any that I would want to change places with. There are trade offs, either way. I am less hopeful than I was four years ago, when I accepted an invitation to the jungle in Yucatan to see if  A*** and I had the potential for a marriage. We didn’t. And it wasn’t the jungle that stopped me. In fact, the jungle was a big part of the attraction.

The jungle house
The jungle house

I wish we had 52 names for love. Because so many different kinds of love fill my life. The love for you, my spiritual child, whom I have known since birth and who has grown into such an amazing woman. For my family and friends, for strangers in distress, for animals and plants, for the sun and the moon, for this life, that has been so hard and so rich in experience. As I age, more and more love spirals from my heart, and the spiral grows to envelope all of existence, the entire universe with its quirks and quarks. And at the center of that universe, I find the dot that I recognize as myself, and I love myself with my own quirks and quarks, my own strivings to grow and heal, my failures and achievements.