Sunday, April 15, 2007
ExhalingThis is the blog of a person with a very clean garage.
But what's amazing about my garage, is that it looks maybe 20% less full than it did two months ago when I started this insanity. At most 30%. But for the last 6 - 8 weeks, I have been throwing TONS of stuff away. Five - six hefty bags a week. Giving piles of boxes away to various charities. My estimate of the give/take ratio was about 80% being tossed or donated. And yet it looks like only about 20% is gone.
This is unnerving.
But it leads me to some interesting conclusions.
1 - I am extremely good at consolidating my baggage.
2 - Stuff proliferates. No matter how much you give away, there is always more to take its place.
This makes me think about breathing. It's been feeling like ... finally ... my house has been allowed to exhale. As the stuff gets thrown and given away, it feels like my household's pores are being opened. There are major arteries being unclogged. This has had some amazing ramifications. I feel much more able to take on new thoughts and projects. I feel less bogged down, more ready for the future. Like there is a flow going in: now that there is outward movement, we're ready for some new things coming in.
As a regular practitioner of yoga, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my breath. This is a good thing.
Breathing -- arguably the thing we do by far the most in our lives -- is at once very simple and yet incredibly complex. It's the place where consciousness and instinct meet. I can control my breath to a large extent with my brain, but can not control it entirely. Suicide by breath-holding is simply undoable (which is why maybe that's the threat of choice for a temper-tantrummy two-year-old.) At some point it goes back to being an animal impulse.
One day not too long ago, as I was prone on my back thinking once again about my breathing, I realized I felt FAR more comfortable inhaling than I did exhaling.
Inhaling makes me feel safe and strong. I'm bringing in a world of new possibilities, pulling them inside of me where I can control their disposition. I can accumulate experiences, sort and catalog them, expand my body to accommodate them.
The exhale, on the other hand, makes me a bit fearful. All that releasing... it's so vulnerable. What if letting all that precious life-giving air go is dangerous? What if something happens while I'm emptied out and I can't replenish fast enough to stay alive?
Then, too, if I let all that stuff out... what might I lose with it? On a physiological level, I might lose precious oxygen. On a metaphoric level, I might lose something that I'll miss deeply. If I let it all go... what if it never comes back? Breathing out makes me feel vulnerable and soft, open and exposed. With my lungs full, I can literally exist a few more seconds than I can with my lungs empty. The breath is my protection, literally, on a primitive level. It is the air we breathe.
But there's a flip side to the bonus of control and safety. When I could get around the tremors of fear long enough, I felt that letting out all that old dead shit felt great. Used air, dead air, carrying with it pieces of used up emotional baggage -- who needs it? The air is the conveyor belt letting all that old stuff out.
In cleaning my garage, I've started my house and my life breathing again. The blocked passageways have been evacuated. A flow is starting. I'm feeling changes in how I'm looking at my work (both writing and employment). I'm feeling changes about how I'm looking towards the future (more optimism; less dread). I feel more like I'm living in a boat than in an historical society. The things I need (and the things I simply love) are at hand. The signal-to-noise ratio is much much better.
And what's scary and amazing is how much is still left. I look around and I still havge way more than plenty. This is not a life of scarcity, or even taut efficiency... by a long shot. Yes, it's streamlined. But there's still nowhere near a dearth of stuff.
Which is kind of another lesson. Mo matter how vigorously I move the stuff out, I will never be stuck with nothing. Even if all the material objects disappeared with a whoosh, my life would still be filled with people and activities and project and words. The life force remains, even as you cleanse and prune it back.
Until this physical body stops for good, life is always going to be a continual flow of pulling in, holding to our hearts, and letting go. It happens with our oxygen, it happens with our old love letters, it happens with our parents, it happens with our children. We inhale our loved ones in, hold them to us, and then we need to let them go. And all the while there is new love to bring in, new things to discover, new life force to ingest.
We bring in.
It's such a beautiful system, it almost takes my breath away.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:16 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
It must be apparent to anyone who reads these blogs that I, well, haven't been writing any.
It sounds like the typical writer's excuse, but I have been busy. And I've been engaged in this garage cleaning binge that -- as anyone I know will tell you -- has been consuming my life and overtaking my metaphor pool for weeks now.
To dramatically understate: this is an intensive cleaning. I am going through every item in every box. I've set forth the laundry list of what this entails in a previous blog. And as I am seeing the end in sight -- really! -- I'm kind of starting to figure out parts of why I'm doing this.
It seems to have something to do with a milestone rebooting process. In being confronted by not only my entire life -- as evidenced by bits of paper stored in boxes -- I'm also having to deal with the lives I've created (my kids) and the lives from which I came (all my deceased father's worldly goods, as stuffed into boxes 6 years ago when I cleared out his apartment as rapidly and mind-numbingly as possible). I have also been going through boxes that my mother periodically dumps, in anger, on my doorstep -- boxes that contain bits of me (hair, baby teeth, ballet slippers) that she apparently cannot stand to have around any longer.
Between 17 boxes of my dad's conspiracy theories, and my childhood mementos thrown in boxes in an effort to eradicate me from my mother's life... it's been rather eye-opening.
To put it another way: it's amazing I'm as sane as I am.
The hardest part was seeing how really crazy and obnoxious my dad was for at least the last 10 years of his life. Boxes upon boxes of highlighted letters, addressed to government officials, with commentary written that was either witheringly snotty (at best) or completely incoherant (at worst).
After looking at the same pieces of paper worked on over and over with minute changes on each version, a collage began to form in my head of what this man was doing with his incessant harranguing of Social Security, then-governor Pete Wilson, the Clinton administration (he offered them the opportunity to pay him $100,000 to buy his secret information about the Gulf War).
He blamed Governor Deukmejian for his pre-mature receipt of Social Security Benefits and the subsequent cut in all future payments. This original misunderstanding led to years of racism and accusations that Deukmejian had given my dad's personal money to the Armenian refugees in a fit of pique over my dad calling him a draft dodger. This expanded to a larger paranoia that the US Military "stole" a slide rule invention my dad had come up with during WWII. And this expanded to a general and all-pervasive hatred of authority and constant belittling of everyone he came in contact with who had anything to do with his money -- from the phone company to his apartment manager to Social Security and on and on.
And in this picture I realized that this was a man who was terrified of being a Nobody. He had to create these scenarios of persecution to reassure himself that he was important enough to steal from. That his name calling was heard. That his rants were pissing off people in high places.
I threw out vast quantities of this stuff, and saved a small part of it to burn. His 17 boxes of apartment detritus were distilled into two -- a box for his writng and a box for his personal things.
It was the last box of personal items that did me in tonight.
After seeing all the craziness, and separating out the beautiful stuff that he still was able to create -- a charming love story/novella about a love affair during the war, pictures of me looking hauntingly happy (in the early days of my marriage... a glow in my face I haven't seen in many many years), pictures of my sons hugging each other on someone's first day of kindergarten, every postcard from me that I ever sent) -- I finally came to the very last days of his life.
In that last box to be opened, I found the receipt for his last purchases (a couple of cans of tuna, some croutons and a couple bottles of beer.) I found a receipt for some work they had done on his apartment (three days before he was found barely conscious on the floor).
And I found notes for the TV set he wanted me to run out one night to buy for him at K-Mart.
It was a 19" set.
He had written up, and then torn up, a check for $157.40.
I had refused to leave my house at 9 p.m. to go get it for him.
He had hung up, pissed.
I had refused to call him back for several days.
And by the time I asked his apartment manager to check on him, it was too late.
He was alive. But it was too late. He died four days later.
When I got to the note about the TV set, I lost it. I had never felt sorry about my decision to stay home that night. I had never wondered what would've happened if I'd called the next day. But tonight it finally hit home. I sat on my garage floor and cried as if it had all happened yesterday. And then I realized... it almost had. The date of his crouton-purchase was April 6.... this coming Friday. And he died a week from Saturday, six years ago.
I don't know why these things take the time they do. In a parallel move, precipitated by the cleaning up, I'm sure, I finished copying a book I started six years ago for a memorial service that has never yet happened. It's a collection of pictures of my dad, and a few essays I'd written about him. For some reason, I finally finished it and will send it out this week to our small group of relatives. Six years late, but it's finally time.
My dad had this horrible, hideous lamp made out of an old Jim Beam bottle. It's tacky as hell and in no way reflects any part of the man who used to design high end shoes and determine fashion trends for the ladies of San Francisco and Los Angeles. It in no way indicates that he was a man who loved Paris and relished the Italian language and drove expensive cars and had his suits dry cleaned after each wearing. It's a horrible lamp, and he loved it. Which means I love it, too.
I put it in the garage as I've been also taking some time to adorn the garage with things I love -- like the license plates from all the cars I've ever owned, and little sculptures from the building blocks I had when I was a toddler. So I put up the Jim Beam lamp and screwed in a little night light bulb just to keep myself from sticking my finger in the socket when it was on.
For kicks, after I'd gotten over the crying thing and freaking out my kids and dog with the unusual display of sadness and pain... I turned on the Jim Beam light and turned off the overhead flourescents.
The garage was magically transformed. The glow of the wooden rafters suddenly became rich and deep. The American flag I'd hung up looked neat and funky. But most notably, I realized that I now had a "ghost light" for my garage. Ghost lights are always set up on a stage at night and left on while the stagehands go home. One theory is that it's left on to keep the ghosts company; the other (well, my other theory) is so that no one falls into the pit and creates more.
My ghost light is now fully operational. I will keep it on to keep my ghosts company as we sleep. I will keep it on as a tribute to the man who loved that Jim Beam bottle light. I will keep it on as a small requiem, and an apology for not going out to buy a TV set six years ago on Friday.
Most of all, I will keep it on in hopes that it will be seen and understood: he was a Somebody to someone. He mattered. Not in the rantings and ravings... but in the postcards he kept and the pictures he held near to his heart.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:22 PM 1 comments