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Monday, April 21, 2014

Say Sayonara and Move On

     The word “relationship” implies a forever line of thinking. It is described as a “connection by blood or marriage” or as an alliance, a kinship, a dependence. That sounds very permanent.  But some relationships are not permanent. They have a beginning and an end, a certain number of minutes, an allotment of pavement and then nothing. While looking at the lifespan of one human this concept is more easily comprehended. You live, you die and everyone goes home separately.  Occasionally a connection may continue past death, because both energy boxes are still relating. For instance, I still talk to my dog Bonni Blue and she died in 2007. 

     Yes, she talks/barks back.

But for the purpose of this essay, let’s set aside relationships that continue on past death. The ones I’m focusing on are those that have run out of road. 
     There are many connections between humans. The top of the pyramid usually involves parents and offspring, spouses and siblings. Others, are pets and pet owners, one night stands, best friends, bosses and co-workers and the person you see in line at Starbucks every Tuesday. Some of those relationships are considered sacrosanct. An umbilical cord connected Mother and nugget, so this one is discussed reverently, even though there are some horrific stories about what Moms and their kids do to one another. The same goes for spouses, siblings and co-workers. These are the realms in which it is important to understand the definition of done.

Completed; finished; through; our work is done, cooked sufficiently, worn out; exhausted; used up. When two or more humans, in a combined experience have run out of road, there is nothing left to impart to one another. It is a state of finis.

     “I don’t have a daughter.”

     “This is the last time I will set foot in this house.”

     “But you’re underperforming, I don’t have to be nice.”

At this point it’s not about counseling, mediation or resolving issues, it’s about letting go. When a relationship has sucked the life out of itself, juicing down to the pulp, call the time of death already. Say sayonara and move on.

     “But they still need me.”

If a person is breathing unassisted, is able to care for themselves, has food and water and can swallow, they do not need you. They may want or feel you owe them something, but that is not need, it is want.

     “You promised.”

     “You’re supposed to take care of me.”

     “Do what’s right.”

Some humans believe they are owed, that there is a cosmic debt unpaid and anyone linked by blood or alliance is the one holding the note. This mentality drains the oxygen out of a room and the life out of a bond.  Relationship asphalt is made of Evens-Stevens. Not an everyday equal sign, but the mutual understanding of neutral over time. When one side has their hand out or divvies up the pie unfairly there is no room to grow. One person cannot carry another for the duration of a connection. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are people who stumble along with humans strapped to their back.

     “You married her, now you’re stuck.”

     “She’s my Mom I have to.”

     “Just this once I’ll do his homework.”

     “He’s a prick but I have to go to the meeting.”

There are plenty of real obligations to living on this planet, some of them necessary because you could wind up in jail for unpaid taxes or wearing dentures. But other “Have Tos” are voluntary, though they may appear required.

     “Hug Grandma”

     “You’re supposed to love your Mother.”
     “It’s a paycheck.”

These are not mandatory requirements, they are voluntary.

     I choose!  I choose!  I choose!

I can’t imagine picking pain or abuse or mundane and boring repeater conversations, the kind dictated at family gatherings. Not unless some giant arm reached over and picked for me. That giant arm is labeled under the heading “good”. This concept has inspired a lot of unhappy people. Follow the rules, carry someone else’s crap, do the right thing and a bounty of treasure will be thrown at your feet. I’ve eavesdropped on a lot of dissatisfied humans. Many have constructed their days around the illusion that if they play by the rules and don’t step on the cracks they’re life will be wonderful. 

     “I gotta take my Mom to the grocery store. We already went this week, but she needs toilet paper and doesn’t think I can pick up the right brand.”

     I’ll get the daughter of the year award.

     “I had to miss my therapy appointment since my son forgot his lunch and I have to bring it to him.”

      One day he’ll take care of ME.

     “We cancelled our vacation because Cliff’s boss is making him help on a project. He put in early for leave and the tickets were bought 6 months ago, but oh well.”

     He might get a raise.

We live in a democratic society, which has rules and foundations for keeping it so. Those dictums were laid out to keep the people from a tyrannical government, but they are also useful for inter-personal connections. If it is a choice it isn’t a “Have To”. This means no one’s got a choke chain dragging a human from chore to chore. If you’re doing something you despise, you are choosing it. My dogs hate leashes for a reason.  When they’re harnessed they can’t sniff under bushes, chase rodents at will or eat the poop of wildlife.
     There is a left of center option and it requires commitment and fortitude. This is when there is a fork in the road and it veers from what is considered “responsible” and “good” for others. It is instead, honoring what is responsible and good for self, accompanied by the guts to stand up for it.

       The right to pursue happiness.

I’m not suggesting airy fairy happiness, the concept poured down our throats at ten. Instead I speak to the joy that comes from deciding to be in situations or relationships that bring out the best in you and your life. In that wide open space, unfettered by obligation, there is an opportunity for relationships to grow. That is a road with many miles of asphalt, going around turns, up hills and into valleys, offering the possibility for more.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mom Sandwich

     The first several times I took on the parenting job I failed and failed and failed. I was a highly proficient zygote killer. Every month I despised going to pee because it would inevitably lead to my pink slip. This lasted for over 6 years and it should have told me something about my career choice. Modestly, I claim the heavyweight title of slowest learner, accompanied by dogged determination. 
     After boy-girl twins were born, my job security wasn't guaranteed. A random, hideous event could reach in and swipe the slate clean! I obsessed.

     No wack jobs as neighbors.


     No rat poison within reach.


     Climbing trees is forbidden.


This final decree lasted until the week after 9/11. Suddenly and irreparably I discovered it impossible to keep everyone safe from everything. 

     A shrieking wail is heard as I rip handfuls of hair from my scalp.

The twins were released from ground prison. Fresh out of the cage, they whooped and hollered and headed for trees like heat seeking missiles. Still on crutches after a knee surgery two weeks before, I hid my eyes in the house and prayed. Not really. Both kids were pretty short for their age and the trees in our yard were minus the required low limbs, (I’d had my husband take care of that before lifting the gate to freedom).

     You can’t take the controlling bitch out all at once…it takes several washings.

Our son may have been height deprived but he is also smart as a whip. A half hour later I heard screams and pounding footsteps on the deck.

     “Mommy! Mommy! Mommmmmmmmmy! Comeherehe’sstuckinthetree!”

Throwing the crutches aside, I hobble ran outside to face the terrible, awful, horrible sight. The boy hung upside down, tethered by one over-sized boot in the V of a crab apple tree. His back lay against the trunk, and he was suspended about 3 feet off the ground.

     Bad Mommy.

This rescue would take two good legs and the strength of a body builder. I had neither, thus I made do. Stumbling forward I grasped his waist to tether him so he wouldn't break his neck, while yelling for my daughter to call Dad at work. Surely I could hold him the two hours it would take my husband to arrive.

     Yes I have delusional moments all the time.

I wasn't given the opportunity to test my abilities as a Mom Sandwich, because when my arms looped around, his foot slid out of the boot. In slow motion we fell backward, his feet wrapped around my throat and his face in my crotch. Windless and in shock, I lay still to assess the damage in pieces. A muffled voice came from my nether regions.


My daughter stood above me with the wise eyes of an old woman. She knew I hadn't rescued the little monkey. We just got damn lucky.

     Lesson #1:  It is impossible to assure nothing bad will ever happen.

     I should have read the fine print.

Parenting is a wonderfully hideous endeavor that is best served when I remember that random shit happens…all the time. The twins are now 20 and have headed off to college to learn for themselves that I can’t protect them from everything and neither can they. It is a big wild world that is filled with change and trees and beasties that go bump in the night. Wake up and enjoy the mayhem.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Mutilated Duck

The title grabbed your attention right?  And why wouldn't it?  Who the hell writes about a mutilated duck. Who the hell has a story about a mutilated duck? 

     That would be ME.

This little tale quite literally saved my ass today. I'm at a writers conference and it hasn't been going well...or rather it has been a very traumatic and enlightening experience.

     For God's sake Deb tell the damn story.

I started the day with very little sleep. This due to the fact that my life has been a raging cluster fuck of late including a madcap rush to assist a family member, a puking dog, a flood because I left the dial on the washer between 2 settings and oh yes, a writer's conference that needed a proposal for a book I wrote. To top the enchilada with some cheese, yesterday MapQuest took me to hell and back to get to Madison.

After a couple of meet and greets I was to get a critique from a college professor, an English Professor. No one other than friends and family had seen what I had written so this was a little unnerving to say the least. The session was to last 30 minutes and the instructor had been given the material several weeks ago so we would be discussing what she had already read. 

     "I love some of your language, you have a very different way of describing things. This line in particular: 

     Exhausted I flipped on my back, toes to the sun, far enough from shore that people were bits of moving color, more kaleidoscope than human landscape.        
What is missing from the 15 pages I read is story to drive the character. It's as though we're in her head."

At this point I'm confused.

     But I wrote a memoir...that's kinda in my head.

She instructively continued.

     "It would be great if you could make her interact more and have it more scene driven."

      Ummm...that would be a little hard since it already happened.

 I stare at her with what I hope is a bright and interested face. I don't want to appear grumpy and unwilling. Her next words are boldly presented in neon colors.

     "And, I'm not sure you were going for this, but she comes off as crazy."

     Wow. She said that out loud.

I squirm a little, knowing a few humans who have used this same descriptor to wound me and believed it to the bone. But at 53 I no longer hold other people's beliefs as my own. Now I make her day go from boring and methodical to rude and interesting.

     "You do realize I've written a memoir?"

She looks ill...after all she just called me crazy.

     "OH! NO! I um sorry I didn't, I wasn't told, it was presented to me as fiction. Oh. You should take this up with the conference."

     Um. Ya think?

She stutters and makes a brief attempt to make the critique relevant to memoir and I bring the ordeal to an end early. No sense traumatizing the two of us into more than the two drink minimum.
     The day is to follow with a pitch to an agent. At this juncture I figure no sense following any rules.

     Fucking GAME ON.

I am allotted 8 minutes to present a bright, rehearsed little ditty. Instead I launch into how my life was changed when my dog died and toss the twenty something young woman a tricked out brochure a very talented artist named Janet Balboa made for me. She softens into her chair and looks up.

     "So I want to know more about these gurus."

The agent looks like a human unique unto herself, but also a regular schmo like me.

     "Well a guru doesn't have to be some guy with a robe on. It could be a five year old kid or a mutilated duck."

 Startled she laughs.

    "A mutilated duck? How? What happened?"

      What the hell. I've got nothing to lose and it's a fucking great story.

     Riding on a rural bike path had been hazardous in the months after checking into Shaman School. Squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles and birds dropped dead minutes before I rounded a bend. I’m able to clock the time of death by the warmth of the bodies. My spouse calls me an animal coroner.


     Maybe I’m a creep who unknowingly sends out voo-doo poison.

Each carcass I carefully move to the side of the path and then give last rites. Basically I make shit up and hope for the best. A spotted woodpecker is snarfed down by a hawk, leaving behind a wing and a few chest feathers.


     Blessed spirit, fly to the other side.

Another outing produces a wee bunny tail, minus the body.


     Little one, you are loved.

     I’m a freak.

One bright crisp day breaks through a late summer heat wave announcing fall. Both teenagers are living in college dorms and I mope through afternoons wishing someone other than me wanted chocolate chip cookies. Biking in a sad fog, I see a large lump ahead.

     OhmyGod, what now?

The size forecasts more than a rodent. Closer, a shape forms and it is a large fowl. A mother duck appears to have keeled over midway across the bike path, several yards from a pond. There are no signs of injury.

     Are you kidding me?

     What do I do with that?

I move the duck to the side uber carefully. Shamanic rites begin.


     Sacred Mother seek the light.

    Words arrive via mental email from the dead body.


 This was a new outcome. Usually the dead animals leap frogged themselves to the other side.

   Hey little lady move it, I got eleven miles to get in before sunset.

     “I am not finished.”

Splashing comes from the pond and I see two small ducks take off heading to parts unknown. I sense she may be ready now.

     They are ready mama, release and head to the light.


The next day when I pass the pond there is a rudely abused duck carcass. Mowers have come by and though mostly in one piece, it is a bloody mess.

     I suck at this shaman business. 

     I’m not much of a coroner either.

A heat wave arrives kicking fall back a few notches and the fowl creates an increasingly horrific site as the week progresses. Decomposition is in full swing, flies assist helpfully and a stench announces the grave well before my arrival. Long past obvious something further needs to be done I pull over alongside hoping it isn't necessary to pick the thing up. It is time to ask the all knowing Voice for assistance.

     Okay Big Guy, what am I missing?

     “Your Mother Duck is dead.”

     I’m a little dense today, what do you mean?

     “YOUR Mother Duck is dead.”


 The offspring had flown the coop, but I hadn't acknowledged the job done.

     I've got to make sure they graduate with good grades, get jobs, set up homes.

     I’m nowhere near through.


     Holy crap settle down, give me a minute.

Standing, I begin to move away from the body but I ask a final question.

     Am I supposed to take a feather to honor the process?

    “No elements of Mother Duck Love will remain.”

Back on two wheels, this statement is discussed with Big Dude while the bike drives itself.

     Mother Love is omnificent.

     “No it isn’t.”

     Of course it is, Mom’s fix the world.

     “Mom’s fix the world as THEY believe it needs to be.”

     But Mother Love if done right, keeps little ones safe.

     “Mother Love is a confining and narrow perception.”

I think about how Mother Love applied to my life. Most people were cared for in this manner, including my husband and clients. Everyone became offspring. This meant I managed lives, with an expectation they all behave, mandated of course by rigid rules set in place by a mother who knew best.

     That “Have To” list keeps getting shorter and shorter.

     “Unwinding creates space.”


Attachments are not noble, nor are they benign. Connected through genetic structure and perhaps spiritually, each breathing form lives the journey separately. When pages are stuck together, whole volumes of information are lost.

     “You don’t even know who I am.”

     “Tell me.”

     “Why?  So you can use it against me?”

When one person’s perception and expectation, cocoon around another, the butterfly can’t escape. Trapped colors, ideas, beliefs lie dormant stifled under a thick exterior. A teacher tells a student what is true. A mentor guides a quest to find truth for themselves. Every human has the right to discover what IS, un-molded from generations past.

     “Creativity will burst from the cocoon.”

     Couldn’t you have told me this before the little blobs arrived?

     “Creativity will BURST from the cocoon.”

     That’ll sure change a few things.

Back on the path the next day, I approach the pond with trepidation. Startlingly, hundreds of feathers whirl in all directions. The mowers had arrived for a second pass. The bloody body and awful smell are gone. Stopping, I stand near the fence surrounded by downy splendor.

     “Send them back from where they came.”

Grabbing handfuls, I toss feathers toward the pond, a breeze carries them the rest of the way floating between here and there.


     Gratitude from one mom to another fills the sky with light.

Mother Duck Love evaporates in a steady stream of love for ALL. Wings develop and color darkens in wide open possibility.
     Here in Madison, one lone mutilated duck brought this fucked up day back to life.  

     Go figure.