Friday, March 24, 2006
When I was a junior in high school, I ran away from home.
This is a rite of passage that many people engage in. And, to me, it seemed like the logical response to an increasingly stifling atmosphere. I wanted to go to an extracurricular school event, a gathering of a group of politically active students from around the state, and my mother said I couldn't. I decided to go anyway. I lied and told my mom I was spending the weekend at a friend's house, my best friend told her parents she was spending the weekend at my house, and we took off.
It was pretty straightforward, except that we lived in Southern California, and we ran away to San Francisco.
We walked to the Pasadena Hilton and boarded the bus down to LAX. At LAX we boarded a PSA flight to San Jose. I had figured it all out beforehand; it was exorbitant ($35 for the plane ticket) but worth it. We were going to go to the convention if it killed us.
Well, it almost kind of did. I remember sitting on the bus heading down the Pasadena Freeway and looking out the window. It may have been this time of year -- spring, wild weather -- and I realized I had truly severed a tie with my previous self. I was off into the unknown, without a paddle, without a safety net of any kind. It was obviously all planned out, but I was executing on solely on my own. My best friend was with me and together we were embarking on a wild adventure.
I had met some guy at a previous gathering of the same group, and had kissed him in the rain under some trees in the park outside the Sacramento capitol. (Hence the prohibition of ever going to one of these things again -- my mom suspected there was something dangerous involved and immediately clamped down on everything.)
He and I had communicated... by letter! ... so we had set up to stay with him. He must have picked us up at the airport, and we went to his house in Woodside. It was a nice house in a lush area, and just like many rich smart kids of our day, he was pretty much left alone to his own devices by all authority figures who were doubtless off worrying about problems of their own.
We sat in his room, smoked a joint, listened to Led Zeppelin and watched a Wheel-0 go back and forth for maybe three or four hours. I have no idea where we slept that night; probably in his room. We were all three about 16. I have no recollection of his parents whatsoever.
The next day we went up to San Francisco. For some reason we bailed completely on the political gathering. Either we couldn't talk our way in, hadn't pre-registered (which would've been tricky without parental consent) or just didn't give a shit anymore.
In any event, once we got into The City we aimed for Union Square. This was in the early 70's, so The City was still in the throes of the Revolution. Which meant, basically, that it was pretty easy for a couple of young girls to find a joint to smoke and make new "friends" to crash with.
We had no money. Despite my beautiful planning, the arrangements of shuttles and plane tickets and rich guys to stay with, we sort of ended up without any pocket change. I remember standing at a counter at a diner off Van Ness and seriously arguing with Celia whether it would be OK to steal the Leukemia quarters by the cash register. I believe that morality won out, but I can't be positive.
We spent the rest of the day walking. One of most repulsive things we did, on that weekend of anarchy, was pick up cigarette butts off the ground to smoke so we wouldn't get hungry. It worked. We were both nauseated and disgusted, so food seemed a lower priority.
We found ourselves at a park near Coit Tower, smoking a joint we had procured somewhere. We sat under a tree and the world whirled about us. We were absolutely certain, and I still believe it to be true, that we were at the center of the universe at that moment. That we had found the true focal point, and it was holding us, and us it, in perfect equilibrium for those few timeless moments in that park I've never been able to find again.
I was not to lose my virginity for a few years, but we found ourselves in some other boys' bedrooms that night. The stereo was on, the parents were absent, and I insisted on wearing my trademark bandana around my neck all night -- so I was still technically wearing something. She had the older brother -- and I don't know what they did -- and I was with the younger one. He must've been 15 or so. Sweet and shy and completely unsure of what to do with a girl who had invited herself over and still refused to take off her bandana.
The next day we got back to San Jose, somehow, and made our exhausted and green way home.
I think of that every time I sit in an airport terminal, as I am right now. I think of that first excursion into the world... the part of it that is pathetic and the part of it that was glorious. I ran away 400 miles away, smoked cigarette butts off the ground, and was not caught for months (until my mom read some of my letters to the Woodside guy and I came home to find the word FUCK all over my bedroom walls, written in red lipstick.)
We made our journey and came back older and less wise. We were tired young girls, three years older than my son is now.
And looking back I find it incomprehensible that we could've gotten away with it. That we saw no evidence of parents anywhere. That it was OK for us to be hooking up with these kids without any questions, any interaction whatsoever, with any adult.
We were wild for a reason. We were being given arbitrary dictates from parents who had checked out, both physically and psychologically. They cared passionately, and didn't care at all. I don't know where they went. I don't know where I went. But it was a time when there were two worlds and they did not discuss their dealings with the other, under any circumstances, in any way.
I trust that my kids won't have to contemplate stealing the Leukemia money in order to buy breakfast. I trust they won't have to buy a plane ticket to find freedom. But I also wish for them a moment or two, with a cherished and trusted companion, where they find themselves young, untethered, and at the center of the universe.
Someday I will find that park again. And someday, I trust, they willl, too.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 5:58 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
The Happy Carrots vs. Those Who Dive Into the Wreck
I heard a great dichotomy yesterday: there are two kinds of people -- the Happy Carrots and Those Who Dive Into the Wreck.
I am definitely one of the latter. I dive into the wreck every moment of every day. Most of the time I get sliced by rusty edges and battered by shifting cargo. But I dive into it; I don't know any other way to be.
I know some Happy Carrots. Sometimes I call them the Happy Nice People. They are people who just don't want to go into the wreckage, ever. Who don't want to really do much besides be happy. Which is admirable and great -- and amazing to me. I mean, of COURSE we all want to be happy. But some people hold that up as an ideal. And -- for whatever reason -- I hold going to the deep waters as my ideal. Getting to the bottom of things. Mucking up the sludge to try to understand and embrace it.
This is the poem from which the image of diving into the wreck came from. I only read it last night, so I don't presume to know it well. But it's great. And I send it to you in the hopes that as you dive into your own wrecks today (my non-Happy Carrot friends) that you do so with joy and consciousness. For me, the diving is the only way to go.
Diving Into the Wreck
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.
I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
you breathe differently down here.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and away into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:03 AM 0 comments
Sunday, March 19, 2006
I went to my step-father's memorial service today. As my son, Taylor, succinctly put it: It was pretty good, except that Tony is dead.
Except for the death part, yes, it was a lovely ceremony. I had a chance to reconnect with some of my mother's friends, whom I love just because they're old and sweet. And I was able to hold my mom's hand and hold the hymnal for her and run interference on getting the checks to the right people and finding more chairs for people to sit on. In short: I did what I do best in a crisis... I made things work.
Death is tricky. It forces us to create a story to sum up an entire life. It makes us take complex relationships and reduce them to simple sound bytes. "He was an honest man." "I will miss him." That pretty much is what 86 years boiled down to today.
The church was down in Laguna Beach and the presence of the ocean was palpable. On the way there, Taylor and I stopped on one of the side streets jutting out from PCH, dead-ending on a cliff above the water. We parked and walked to the end of the street, where steps led down to the rocks and sand. The smell of the ocean is intoxicating to me. The water roiled about some rocks about 100 yards offshore. The sun was brilliant and lit the water with glints of light that filled me up with pure joy at being alive.
Someone had carved out a garden beside the stairs. It was bright with flowers and a sign said "Garden of Peace and Love." A little bench was tucked under a trellis. It was perfection. Eden. A place to be completely happy.
I forced myself to breathe while we stopped there, just before the service. Life IS a good place to be sometimes, I thought. There IS so much good to be had within the space of our years on the planet. My life these days seems to be consumed with working and slogging, and I'm reminding myself more and more these days to remember that it is possible to spend these precious hours of life NOT working, NOT slogging. That it's possible to relax and breathe and have good things happen.
We got up to the service and it was lovely (except that Tony was dead). As people spoke about what he'd meant to them and stories they'd shared, I thought about the way we create our realities after the fact, and make them convenient to understand and to live with.
My mother's relationship with him was troubling, to me. His children weren't at the service because of the bad blood between her and them, and that was a source of great sadness for Tony. But even despite that, and the bickering, and the way they seemed only to be hard of hearing to each other's voices, I knew they loved each other. Underneath all the back and forth of their daily conversation, I realized that the fact they were having a conversation said it all. They annoyed each other frequently. But they were engaged. And she will miss that engagement most of all... not his honesty or his goodness or any of the other words that were said. She will miss the way she could get annoyed with someone and thus prove that she was alive.
On the way home I was listening to my favorite compilation of songs -- ones created by my dear friend and partner in crime, Scott, for his erstwhile radio program up in Davis. It's a bunch of tracks from the San Francisco music scene in the 70s and one of my favorites -- Find the Cost of Freedom -- by David Crosby came up.
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.
Mother earth will swallow you,
Lay your burden down.
The first line suddenly reached out and gripped me. Tony was now free. From a body that was failing. From a wife who never embraced his kids. From his kids who never embraced his wife. He told me the last time I saw him, a few days before his death, that he was having dreams of walking around in the world, without tubes and hindrance, in a body that was mobile and easy. He was free of all that burden of a body that was old.
But the cost of that freedom is complete. He is completely free from all the strife; it is gone, behind him, not remotely his concern any more. To get that elevation of thought, though, he sadly had to become completely dead. He found absolute freedom on all sides. And the cost of that freedom is a bit too high, for most of us.
I want to linger in that Garden of Peace and Love overlooking the sea for a long long time. But do I want the ultimate freedom that would come with being there permanently? Supposing that incredible garden is what that next part of our journey is all about. I long for that serenity and absolute joy, but I also am not ready to go there. Not yet. Not forever.
I will take up my burdens again tomorrow, after I get some rest. And maybe the legacy from a day such as this, and a life such as Tony's, is that it enables us to go forward with a bit more joy in those burdens. And to look more deeply within to a place of freedom inside that might be available while we're still alive. That we can visit when we'd like, without taking up permanent and irrevocable residency.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:33 PM 0 comments
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Building a life
I live in a small house. My office is in my son's room (don't worry, I didn't claim a Home Office deduction this year, so I can go public about these things now.) Thanks to the miracles of WiFi, my office has actually expanded however... and most of my work over the past two years has been done from where I'm at now: propped up against pillows, barely conscious, with a laptop in front of me.
I am very happy to be back here with a keyboard. But getting here has been arduous indeed. Putting things back together has been painstakingly slow. I feel like the last ten weeks have been nothing but a series of lists, growing instead of dwindling, hacking at the items that grow like kudzu overnight. The cost of this burglary to me -- in time, in hassle, in money -- cannot be believed. Like a car accident, one flash of an event has taken my life hostage for a prolonged and indefinite midnight of time.
But gradually it's coming together. I sometimes think, usually while sitting in traffic, that my whole life's purpose has been to teach me patience. I didn't used to think of myself as patient, but apparently that is one of the universe's little projects with me. I get to wait until my late forties before I have a book with my name on it out in the world. I get to wait, well, for quite a bit longer apparently before I get another shot at a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship. I get to wait for lots of things... computers to load their pages, my dog to decide to go out the back door, my money issues to quit changing their mind about whether to believe in my metaphysics of abundance or not.
And maybe this thing that I'm thinking is all about patience only proves the point that it's NOT about patience. Because if I were TRULY patient, I wouldn't be so conscious of how long everything is taking.
I'm reading Eckhart Tolle's The Power of NOW, and it's pretty good stuff. The more I try to be in the moment, the more I'm conscious of how difficult that is, but it's worth trying. So as I look back on ten weeks and calculate what it's taken to get back to writing in this nighttime solitude in my own room, what it's taken to be caught up with paying bills and filing insurance claims and police reports. When I think about that in terms of the power of Now, then I need to just jetison the whole notion. It's not about the distance from there to here, what I had then vs. what I have now and how difficult it was to get back to the my status quo on Jan 2.
It's about what I have right now. It's about the warmth of the covers and the sound of the freeway ebbing and flowing outside my window. It's about the two boys settling down in the rooms around me. It's about the puppy being quiet and sleeping his puppy sleep. It's about this moment, and being present to the present.
That's it. That's all there is. This, this moment, this keyboard, this frame of life.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:37 PM 0 comments
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Running Sam Ragged (or... Can I Now Deduct My Pet as a Business Expense Because Every Blog I Ever Come Up with Anymore is Dog-Related?)
So I'm driving back from our friends LoriAnn and Stephen's house after the Oscars with Sam (the dog) and Spencer (the adolescent.) Spencer and I are cackling with glee because finally... finally... we have run the dog into the ground.
It was quite a day for little Sammy poo. I say this with malice and glee. I started off taking him on a walk down through the park, to the bank and up to the pet store. I thought his little body would explode with joy when we were at the park, he was so ecstatic about being Out! in the Grass! With the People! and the Kids! Everything is an exclamation mark to a puppy.
But it got better for Sam. We went to the Bank! And his owner deposited some checks! And this nice man talked to him! And again he was goiong to explode with joy!
But THEN we went to the Pet Store! Oh my god. It was orgiastic. There were birds! and other puppies! And chew toys! And smells! And it was beyond exciting. It was beyond anything he'd ever dreamed about.
We had a big day set up for little Sam the dog. He didn't know it yet, but he really should have reigned in those exclamation marks early in the day. He was peaking at the park but he had a full FULL day ahead that he could've used to space everything out in.
But that's a human talking, isn't it? Don't peak early... you never know if it'll get better. Why waste all that joy, man. What if you just used it all up? That would suck. You'd use up all your joy and then what if something better happened? Maybe you wouldn't notice it if you had used it all up earlier. Maybe you'd jinx it and the thing you were happy with (the park) wasn't NEARLY as good as the pet store to come... and if you were TOO happy with the park, then maybe you wouldn't even GET to the pet store. Maybe the universe knows. And punishes us for all those used up exclamation marks.
That is sooooo human.
To Sam it's all fun. It's all wonderful. He was exploding with joy no matter what. And when I was cruel enough to pull him away from a particularly good smell or a great pile of leaves, he'd balk a little bit but then go on happily... the object of desire forgotten and the new adventures consuming him already.
After the walk, it was time to go to PetSmart for puppy training class. Oh BOY! It's a ride in the car! And then the big store! With even MORE puppies! And dogs! And cats! And oh my god, there he is again... totally drinking it in, wiggling with delight, barking and wagging and tripping out.
Exhausting for the humans, whose joy is always on a budget. Invigorating for the dog with an infinite balance.
The day continued. We went shopping afterwards. Even sitting on the cement in front of Best Buy was interesting. Look at all those shoes going by! Look at that little kid! So fun! So good!
Little did he know that after the shopping trip was Bath Time. Bath Time, I have to say, wasn't nearly as fun for him as everything else. During Bath Time he becomes a skinny, shivering, stoic little creature. His fluff is gone. He has spindley little legs. He has big brown eyes that look at us imploringly. But he toughed it out and managed to survive it, exploding as soon as he was rinsed off into a whirlwind of shaking and romping through the ivy and cavorting through the yard. Back to the exclamation marks, but this time in a cleaner, less, well, pungent way.
After the exercise and the excursions and the bath we had one more trick up our collective sleeves for little Sam. It was time to go to LoriAnn and Stephen's and introduce him to Lenny, the Beagle. Lenny, LoriAnn assured us, could deal with Sam's puppyness. As a beagle, Lenny should be able to go mano a mano with a hyper 4-month old. I was skeptical, but we were game. I put the boys and the still-damp dog in the car and hauled ourselves up to LoriAnn's.
The dogs rolled and fought and growled and established territory for about 5 hours straight. They occasionally took time outs but then were right back at it, chasing each other, wrestling, running through the sprinklers. There was no bloodshed and only one small accident on the inside carpet, but otherwise it was a festival of doggishness and boyhood. The three boys played, the two male dogs played, LoriAnn and I screamed at each other over the chaos and tried to outdo each other with catty comments about the Oscars.
And the topper was this: we knew we had out-done the puppy. We knew that we'd get no whines or wimpers or barks when we put Sam into the kitchen tonight. Ohhhhh no. We, the humans, had prevailed once again. We had beaten him into a tired, fluffy little submission.
As Spencer and I congratulated ourselves on this extreme triumph, I realized that this is exactly how it felt when Gavin and I had finally run Spencer into the ground, when he was two or three. We would start a day off, knowingly planning on doing everything possible to exhaust our child into a ragged pulp, while hopefully still standing upright ourselves at the end of the day. And yes, we would stagger a few steps before collapsing ourselves.. but those few steps were sweeeet. We had prevailed. Our child... our toddler... the center of our universe (all 40 pounds of him) was run ragged and we were alive to tell the tale.
I thought about this lovely irony, that Spencer and I could share this about the dog... and then it strikes me. I know exactly how Sam is feeling right now. I know exactly how it feels to be run ragged. So who is doing this to ME?
Just as I ran my kid ragged, and now my children and I run our dog ragged... who or what am I annoying so totally that it feels like it needs to run me ragged so IT can get some peace?
The universe. This overseer of mine. I don't call it god, but I sometimes joke with it as though I do. (If you can't joke with god, I reason, who can you joke with?) So the universe... the universe runs me ragged like this all the time. But why?
I think about why I get this glee over doing it to my kids (when they were small) and this little dog. Well, to be honest, because sometimes these little toddlers and puppies are really annoying. They whine and they complain and they don't do what I want them to. JEEZ, I say to myself. If you're going to be such a pain in the ass, I'm going to exert my greater superiority and run your butt into the ground until you just shut up long enough to give me some peace.
Maybe if I just did what the universe wanted me to from time to time -- instead of letting my inner toddler come out, with its whining and complaining and running around -- maybe I wouldn't have to be run ragged so much.
And maybe if I took a lesson from Sam and just enjoyed each moment... well, maybe it wouldn't be such a burdensome thing getting through all the projects that we manage to cram into one day. Maybe it'd just be a series of exclamation marks... with some shivering and discomfort, quickly forgotten.... followed by more exclamation marks.
I dunno about all this. It's a good thing to think about. And I think I'll contemplate it more tomorrow... because man, I am WHUPPED.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:05 PM 1 comments