Tag Archives: happiness

dots ‘n’ lines

I hiked a new route today. Decided to find the mythical Horse Camp at Montaña de Oro. Yellow poppies are beginning to bloom here, early signs of spring, or maybe just rain-appreciative plants. Also saw small pink morning glory-type flowers, low in the sand, like a succulent.

Map in my pocket, I follow Cisko’s horse tracks south through the chaparral. The air was ocean clean and fresh. Occasionally coyote tracks ran parallel to my path, then ran off into the brush. Mourning doves coo’d and a neighbor dog barked to note my passage.

Being on foot and coming from the dunes, I did not recognize the road to Horse Camp, so ended up hiking along the paved road for too long. Sunday morning surfers, mountain bikers, and hikers zipped by in their colorful, fast SUVs. No one else was walking.

Down through lines of equidistant eucalyptus trees, the forest of a get-rich-quick-schemer that didn’t profit him financially, but is now a haven for birds and squirrels and other wildlife. My nose is happy with the scent.

Up ahead I see a truck, and could it be? A horse trailer. Seven horses of various shades of brown and grey greet me. I hear a raucous laugh from behind them. There’s a tent with several humans sitting around a picnic table, breakfasting. I stop at a kiosk to read about ticks and lyme disease, then continue along the narrow path that skirts their camp.

“Good morning,” I whisper to the horses as I pass.

None of the other camp sites have campers, but a large covey of quail run through one of the corrals. Curious, I poke around. Wheelbarrows, muck rakes, pens fenced with metal pipe, water troughs. I’m smiling.

Yesterday, on the way back from my morning ocean ramble, Susan and Cisko were waiting for me at a fork in the trail near the ranch. When I stepped off the path to let them by, Susan said, “No, I was waiting to talk to you.” Cisko looked at me, then continued grazing, his mouth foaming green around his bit.

A few weeks ago, I’d emailed the folks at Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in SLO County. I’d asked Susan if she’d like to go with me sometime to check it out, and she wondered whether I’d heard from them.

“Nope,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“Maybe they don’t need volunteers in winter,” I hazarded.

We talked about Red Wings, another horse sanctuary up the highway 80 miles or so.

“Some of them are up for adoption,” I said.
“Are they ridable?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know; supposed to be. I have to check it out.”

Susan knows I want a horse. And once again, she offered to go with me to check out likely candidates.

“Thanks!” I said.

We made our goodbyes, then she and Cisko wheeled around to take the southern route, the one I chose this morning. I’d been walking in his big hoofprints.

I’m smiling because my horse dreams aren’t dead. I don’t know why the mind thinks up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t have what I want, but I am tired of listening to it. For 20 years I lived inland, despite my ocean longings. It took the threat of death for me to listen to my heart, my body.

Now I want the ocean, AND a horse, AND land, AND a home of my own. I am tempted to scale back my desires — are they unreasonable? Is happiness unreasonable?

Sure feels good, though, happiness.
Please god, may my next fifty years be happier than the last. And may yours be, too.

“dots ‘n’ lines” by Elizabeth Shé


Seattle, October 1995 …

“You’re pregnant,” says the nurse, relaying the results of the blood test over the phone.

I’m not surprised. I just bought a lemon at the grocery store for a scratch and sniff remedy; the citrus scent keeps me from vomiting.

Montaña de Oro, October 2016 …
A blustery day. It rained the night before, and will do so again. In California, this is cause for celebration. I feed Cisko just after a cloudy gold and pink sunrise, then go back to bed. Around 9:30 I pack my rucksack and hike down to the ocean.

Highest tide I’ve seen here. The sea rushes all the way up to snowy plover land. About six weeks ago I saw a baby snowy plover — tee-niny! About the size of a ping-pong ball, and probably the same weight. Cute, of course, as all babies are.

I walk north for a while, after stowing my purple boots high on a dune. Lotta kelp washed ashore, the waves still big from the storm. The water is way too turbulent to swim in.

As I walk farther north, I process thoughts and feelings out loud, as is my habit. Nobody’s around, and I find it helpful. Eventually, I sit on a hillock and drink rose-hibiscus tea from my beat up green thermos. Watch the curlews and whimbrels and pelicans.

“I’m not dying!” I yell to a buzzard circling high overhead. And then laugh. It’s true! Three years ago it wasn’t, but today it is. Such beautiful flyers, turkey vultures, just cruising the currents, with barely a wing flap.

When I drove into town last Friday, I passed baby black cows in a field on the south side of the road. Cute! ‘Tis the season. For some.

On the beach, I remember the abortions I subjected myself to. And then a shift occurs. Instead of the familiar rut of beliefs that usually pop up — I shouldn’t want a baby, I’d be a terrible mother, the men were unfit for fatherhood — after decades of lying to myself, I finally speak the truth on this windswept shore: I wanted a baby. I begin to weep.

You see, I had talked myself out of it. Three times. I believed, deeply, that I would be a terrible mother. I did not trust that I would not hurt my baby. I did not trust that I could be different from my parents.

I did not have a baby because I thought I would not be able to control my anger, my impatience, my mean streak. And I thought I needed to be in love with the father. And I thought I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do it alone.

But the reality? What I did not allow myself to know? I wanted a baby. The third abortion, in 1995, was wretched. My body reacted badly, and I could not stop crying. For hours. I wanted to die, and fell into a deep depression soon after.

Eventually I hike back to the apartment, and make a smoothie with strawberries, banana, soymilk, and spinach. It tastes great, despite the fact that I’ve run out of dates. Smoothies are a treat I look forward to after hikes, so this is good news.

“I don’t need dates,” I sing, and dance around the studio. “I don’t need dates.” Which is when I realize that I didn’t need a father either.

Most of my long life I’ve believed that I’ve been missing out on a “regular” dad, whatever that is. Someone who’s always around the house. Two parents, not divorced. Two happy-with-each-other parents.

But that’s not what I got. I got a three-times-a-year dad, a vacation dad. And, despite a lifetime of pining, that has been perfectly fine. Absolutely, incredibly okay. Another truth, bubbling up. Hunh.

And if I didn’t need a dad, perhaps my baby wouldn’t have missed one either. Because that’s the other way I talked myself out of having the baby. The men were not father material, by ANY stretch of the imagination. One was a violent alcoholic druggie, the other was a passive-agressive Beavis-and-Butthead-watching geek. I did not want us to be tied to either of them. I trusted them even less than I trusted myself.

But deep down inside, hidden from me by so-called “rational” thinking, I wanted a baby.

Which also explains my distraught reaction to menopause, sobbing over the clots of blood in the toilet.

Now, despite the tears, or maybe because of them, it is a relief to finally — deep e-x-h-a-l-e — know the truth.

I wanted a baby.

Blue Flower by Susie Van Tyne
Blue Flower by Susie Van Tyne


“I know women like you,” said the knife sharpener.


He looked at me, unsmiling, then– “Ha!” he fell back into guffaws.

I paid him for my freshly sharpened scissors and walked back across the empty lot behind the farmers market to my car.

Beauty makes people behave strangely.

Yeah, I said it. I am beautiful. Three years after evacuating my Washington State home, I am feeling good, and healthy, and striding through life in Levi’s and purple Timberland boots. Not every day is like yesterday, full of confidence and vitality. I still need plenty of down time to rest and reflect, but there seem to be more good days than bad, knock wood.

This morning I got up and dressed in the pre-dawn light, and ate my oat-raisin-coconut-banana-chia porridge while looking out the east window at the sunrise. Chopped up a big-ass carrot that was so fresh it stained my hands orange, and went out into the morning chorus. Lotta birds here, large and small. Various horses whinnied as I approached the stable.

“Good morning, Shadow,” I said to the paint. “Good morning, Kady.” She’s a retired cattle horse, a beautiful mover. “Good morning, Jake,” to a registered quarter horse who allowed me to ride him last week. “Good morning, Jetson,” to a shy roan. Black Magic was off in his pen, away from the main drag I was on. Old Cisko trotted around his corral while I filled his bin with a mixture of food pellets, vitamin powder, and vegetable oil. Everybody got carrots, except Magic, who isn’t allowed sweets.

The sun broke through the high clouds every so often, enough to color the edges a deep rose. I washed my hands, grabbed my rucksack, and headed for the ocean.

Most of the half-mile hike is through sand and coastal scrub, though parts of the trail are a little firmer where, in the ’40’s, the army “improved” the road in order to drive vehicles through. Now that it’s after Labor Day, there are even fewer people in this state park, especially in the morning. I note lizard, rabbit, and coyote tracks, and what I now — after weeks of believing them snake tracks — think are snail trails, winding down into horse prints and out again. I saw a brown-shelled snail a few mornings ago, with a sticky excretion lassoing around behind it.

At the top of the last dune, I stop for awhile to watch the clouds lighten to pink, the roar of the ocean at my back, small birds flitting high in the sky in pairs and flocks. Eventually I hike down to the shoreline.

Instead of jumping in the water as usual, I sit on a piece of bleached driftwood and drink raspberry rose tea from a beat up green REI thermos. Up the beach a man is fishing in the turbulent white water. A small line of pelicans cruises the waves, and curlews with their down-curved beaks search for clams. A raft of dark birds float out past the surf line, maybe cormorants, but they’re too far away to see.

Yesterday I shared a stretch of ocean with a seal, perhaps the same seal as the day before, but who knows? No seals or sea lions in sight today, though I know they’re out there. After awhile the marine layer blocks out the sun, so I get up to start the hike home.

There’s a bush that’s blooming now, with delicate yellow-green daisy-like flowers and a sweet scent. It smells a little like a very faint tuberose. When the wind is right, I can smell it from my apartment. Bees like it. Today it’s more fragrant on the way back from the beach, or maybe I’m not so intent as I pass by on the return journey. A dragonfly flutters overhead while I stop to inhale. So good.

Back at the ranch, I hear a neighbor’s door creak open, but I don’t feel like chatting, so head down, I climb the stairs on the south side of the house. Unaccosted, I open the gate at the top, and grab the horsehair brush by my front door.

Sand and dust brushed off jeans and boots, I step inside the warm studio.

snail trail
photo by Sherrie or Adam: http://www.wellingtonfarm.ca


“My brother’s the artist,” I said to Denise, an old family friend.

“There can only be one?” she asked.

Labels. They’re gonna getcha.

The Smart One. The Pretty One. The Dancer. The Singer. The Mathematician. The Physician. The Engineer. The Performer. The Professor. The Good Girl. The Good Worker (Reliable, Dependable, Trustworthy). The Starving Artist. The Flaky Musician. The Writer. The Liar. The Cheater. The Storyteller. The Rich One. The Poor One. The Owner. The Renter.

Pick one. Then discard. Why can’t we all be all of them? And none of them?

Two days ago, I was reading Through the Dark Forest by Carolyn Conger. In it, she related a story about 50-year-old Gerald, a dying man she was working with, using what she calls Voice Dialogue dreamwork. The basic idea is that we each have many selves, and some of our selves get more attention than others. She spoke with five-year-old Gerald, and he responded as his younger vulnerable self. “What do you want Gerald to know about you,” she asked. “I want him to remember me,” he replied. “I want to be happy, to play more.”

I suddenly flashed on my five-year-old self. My mother was pregnant and bedridden. If she got out of bed, she’d die. So every day in kindergarten, I painted her a picture.

Painting was a major source of happiness for me then. I was swept away, into color and form and texture. I was free to experiment and play. I did not worry about my very sick mother, or miss my dead brother or my absent father. When I played with paint, I was completely absorbed. Completely free. Anxiety didn’t return until I was on my way home, wondering whether my mother would be there or not, alive or not.

Paint, I realized as I put the book down. I need paint. I need art supplies.

The next day, Labor Day here in the USA, I drove to the nearest big box hardware store. I needed options. LOTS of options.

Why a hardware store instead of an art supply store?

    1. I knew where it was and how to get there, only 11.5 miles away.
    2. I didn’t know where there was an art supply store and I didn’t want to spend time looking or asking around.
    3. Price, which leads to …
    4. Low pressure / fool the inner critic. I’m a writer. I buy cheap notebooks to write in (yes, long-hand), so that my writing doesn’t have to be precious or worthy or good. This frees me up to write whatever the hell I want, all the time.

What a happy hour I spent in that big-ass store! Grins galore.

I found small bottles of acrylics in many delicious colors; wood, cut to my specifications (big!); red rosin paper and pale green masking paper; brushes of various sizes and shapes, and round yellow “pouncers” made of sponge; masking tape; and brown “eco”  tarp (big sheets of recycled paper).

Just writing about it slows and deepens my breathing.

Back in the car with my booty, I sat and laughed. Already an excellent return on my 60 bucks, and I hadn’t even used them!

Yesterday, I cleaned off two shelves and rearranged my closet to include an area for art supplies. Happy again!

And today, well, first I turned off the phone. Then I set up an art studio in one corner of my apartment. Laid down the tarp, set up my paints, opened the packages of brushes, filled an old cinnamon jar with water, used an old shea butter lid as a palette.

And played.

Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009
Stars Fall by Elizabeth Shé, circa 2009

re(tern) to happiness

The Groucho Terns are back!

This morning, on my regular ocean amble, what did my wondering ears apprehend? The familiar chatter of a flock of terns! And not just any terns, no! My terns!

Well, they are probably Elegants, instead of my old Hermosa friends, the Royals. I couldn’t get close enough to see. But the Groucho Marx walk was back, along with the cigar-like beak and black bushy “eyebrows.”

Oh! the joy!

I don’t know why certain things bring me happiness, and others do not. It seems to be highly specific. Horses, for example, are a guaranteed joy-generator.

Two weeks after I began hands-on learning about horses, the lessons abruptly stopped. My teacher became ill and moved away, suddenly. Day after day, at six o’clock, I got dressed in my Levi’s and horse hoodie, only to be told that, “Barbara’s still under the weather. She won’t be here tonight.”

I was furious.
Just as I suspected, happiness can’t be trusted. What an idiot I am to expect it to last!

Yes, I was sorry she was ill. It happens. I understand that.
What doesn’t happen very often for me is joy. I had been so happy with Sunny that I couldn’t sleep. Nothing bothered me. Work was a breeze. My family’s bizarre behavior no longer mattered, at least not as much.

I was happy. An unfamiliar feeling.

A week goes by. Still no Barbara. So I didn’t visit Sunny. He wasn’t “mine.” I didn’t know if his “owner” would like a newbie hanging around. And I was scared to ask the stable owner.

I continue to work and eat and go to the ocean. I pretend (to myself) that I am fine. But I am easily irritated. And every time I do the laundry, the machine stops during the spin cycle. It is unbalanced. Each time, I open the lid and rearrange the clothes, evenly. Last night it stopped twice. “What the–?”

I was unbalanced. I had let happiness slide away. I live right next to a stable full of horses. Surely I could visit them?

I put on my Levi’s and an already dirty sweater (dusty creatures, horses). I cut up an apple, and went out to ask if I could feed them.

“Who?” said the stable owner, P.

“All of them,” I said.

“Not Magic,” she said, “no sweets for Magic. And you’ll have to ask about Jake.” She nodded down to where Devon was feeding Jake in his corral. Then she called down to Susan, who’d brought old Cisco out of his paddock. “Can Cisco have apples? small ones?”

Susan said yes. “He doesn’t really chew,” she said, “not enough teeth.”

And then!

P said she didn’t know when or if Barbara would be back, but I could brush and walk Sunny, “if you feel comfortable with that?”

“Yes!” I said, “thank you!”

Happiness floated me down through the stable, dispensing apple bits to Shadow and Kady. I grabbed the pink rope halter on the way, and stopped to talk to Devon and meet Jake.

“You can give him anything,” she said, “apples, carrots, he loves ’em.”

I had not even known how sad I was until I had permission to visit Sunny again. Fear had kept me away from a stable full of friends.

Pulling out the ice-aka-storage chest from under the mounting block, I retrieved two brushes, dumped most of the apple bits in a helmet, closed the lid, and slid through the fence into Sunny’s corral.

It had not been a fluke or a dream. He still listened to me, even without Barbara, and stood while I brushed him. He waited as I put the halter on him, and opened the gate. Then we both walked into the arena, just like old times. Around and around we went, looking at Magic and Jetson and Jake and Shadow. Bunnies and vultures, ground squirrels and barn swallows. Around and around and around, as the sun went down.


I rode a horse today, oh yeah

“Your butt is your best weapon,” says Barbara.

I am at Sunny’s butt, shampooing his dirty blonde tail. A new friend, Sunny is a palomino Tennessee Walker. My butt is sideways against his flank. When he moves, I move. I love leaning against him.

“You can’t hurt him,” says Barbara, “he’s a thousand pounds.”

After several applications of shampoo and Comet, his tail is flaxen. Barbara leads him back to the arena, while I get the bareback pad from the tack room.

Barbara walks him first. At 5’4″ it’s hard for her to keep up with Sunny’s long legs. She leads him back to the mounting block and hands me the halter while she puts on a helmet.

“Good Sunny,” I say, “good horse.” I pat his long strong golden neck.

Known as Carrot Girl among the equine folk, today I forgot them. Too excited for vegetables, I guess.

On Sunny, 80-year-old Barbara is grace in action. They are in sync, in accord, in time, in rhythm — all of it. I could watch them for hours, but Barbara tires before Sunny does, so I stand at his head while she dismounts. “Good Sunny,” I say, “good handsome horse.”

My turn to lead him around the arena, first in circles one way, then the other. “Whoa,” I say at random places and times, and Sunny always stops immediately. Little kiss-kiss sounds move him forward again.

Back at the mounting block, I am now confident enough to sling a leg over him without much ado. We are getting used to each other, the three of us.

Once I’m settled, Barbara walks him forward. I grab a handful of mane.

I’ve had two lessons to date, both of which entailed me walking Sunny around the arena on a halter, then sitting on him for a bit. Get-acquainted-time. Fine by me. I moved to SLO County for a reason: to slo-o-o-o-ow dow-ow-wn. This is the first time Sunny has actually moved anywhere while I sat on him.

Barbara suddenly remembers this and stops. “I’m so sorry!” she says, “You looked so natural up there; I automatically went into Pony Camp mode.” A horseback rider since age seven, she ran Pony Camps for years, for children of all different abilities.

“Don’t be sorry,” I say, “I love it!” And I do. Scared? Yes: Sunny is tall, so I am high off the ground. Excited? Yes: I am actually riding! Finally! But I don’t want to tire Barbara. “How are you doing?”

“I’m great!” she says. We exchange grins, and move forward.

When I notice that my thighs are trembling with fatigue, I suggest we go back to the block. After I dismount I stay close to Sunny, petting and patting and loving on him. “Good Sunny. Good beautiful horse. Good handsome patient horse. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I start weeping. I have wanted this for a very long time. “Thank you,” I say to Barbara, “thank you, thank you.”

young Carrot Girl with an Irish friend
Carrot Girl in Ireland as a child

feeding horses

When I was eleven, my mother’s parents took us to Ireland. Us = me, my brother, and my mother. My grandmother was the Irish in our family, née Rosemary Magonigle.

We were there a month: two weeks with the grandparents, two weeks just the three of us. Those last two weeks may be the best weeks of my life.

After her parents returned to the States, my scared-of-horses mother rented a horse-drawn caravan. I didn’t question this at the time. In the midst of my horse-mad phase, I drew them, read about them, learned their anatomy, and talked about them. The only thing I couldn’t do was ride them: no access.

Darkie was big and tall and, yes, dark in color, with a white star on her forehead. She was assigned to lug our gypsy wagon through the Irish countryside.

Despite her fear, my mother took the reins and refused to let me take a turn. A physical therapist and anatomy teacher, she knew all too well the strength and potential of Darkie’s musculo-skeletal system.

But horses are sensitive creatures. My anxious mother made Darkie nervous, and less than thrilled to take orders from an Irish-American.

“Ach,” said various countryfolk at one time or another during our sojourn to the first campground, “let the child drive!”

“Yeah, mom,” I chimed in, “let me drive.”

No joy. Yet.

As soon as we reached the Philbin’s seaside farm, supposedly the first leg of our journey, we dropped anchor and turned Darkie loose in a field with other caravan horses.

We stayed for two weeks.

I immediately took over horse-care duties, filling my pockets with food. Imagine my delight when they followed me around!

In the back of our small wooden caravan, on the outside, was a trunk of sorts that held Darkie’s food pellets — a two week’s supply. She ate all of it the first night.

Not horse-people, no we weren’t. But I learned. The Philbins taught me; and John, another local, helped me ride.

My five-year-old brother followed Mr. Philbin around the farm, tending to cows, chickens, and other barnyard animals. When I wasn’t following the horses around, I roamed the country and seaside.

All of us were outdoors most of the day. As it was May, this was a very long time — the sun set at 11 o’clock. And the crystalline nights! That was the first time I saw the Milky Way.

On my dead brother’s birthday, we found a small pool in a dip in the hills, filled with sea-life: anemones, little fish, dulse. Big enough to swim in, so I did, holding my breath from one end to the other, eyes open in the salty water, drinking in the otherworldly strangeness.

Heaven. Paradise. Nirvana.

Why I ever thought I needed to live in a city, I don’t know. To this day, the smell of peat fires puts me instantly back in Ireland.

Finally, decades later, I’m in the seaside country again: no human habitation visible from my western window, and horses for neighbors. I live on a ranch, of sorts, an equine boarding facility.

Two days ago, I asked if I could help feed the horses.

“Yes!” said Barbara.

So I followed her around, toting hay, alfalfa, and food pellets; checking water levels and quality. Getting comfortable again in my eleven-year-old heart.
Darkie and me in Ireland; John holds the halter.


Two guys clock me as I walk south of Hermosa pier. The spiel begins immediately.

Guy 1: Hey there, don’tcha know who this is? (gestures to portly Guy 2, who’s holding a surfboard)

Me: (shakes head, keeps walking)

Guy 1: Don’t you want his autograph? (looks incredulous)

Me: (looking back at them, eyeing the portly surf dude) No. Do you want mine?

Guys 1 & 2: Yes!

I laugh and keep walking, a spring in my step.

This morning I biked over to my favorite plumeria bushes. “Look at you!” I cried. They’re in full bloom, blossoms tumbling to the ground with abundance. Inhaling the heady fragrance fills me with something like God. Peace. Goodwill. I begin collecting the fallen blossoms, and handing them out.

“Thank you,” says the first guy, “have a wonderful day. God bless you!”

“Is that your garden?” says the second guy. Australian accent. Gah-den. Accusatory tone.

I shake my head.

“Why you pickin’ the flowers if it ain’t ya gah-den?”

“I’m not picking them,” I say, and turn away, face suffusing with heat.

I pedal away with a basket full of plumeria blossoms.

I feel terrible.

I am a bad girl.

After awhile it occurs to me: was that his garden? No. He did not say that it was. Why the shame and blame?

I compare the first response with the second — Thank you versus Fuck you — and notice which generated the bigger reaction in me. Thank you made me happy. Fuck you made me miserable. Made me want to stop engaging with any other human ever. Made me want to stop giving out flowers, which is something I enjoy. Made me want to hide.

Same action: giving a stranger a flower.
Two different responses, and two different reactions to those responses.

I don’t want to leave my emotions in the hands of strangers. Gives them way too much power. Neither man’s response had anything to do with me. Not a thing. I’d never met them before.

I remember the disparate reactions to Emmett, my big black Malamute mix: some folks adored him, others were terrified. But he was the same dog.

I continue pedaling north along the waterfront. When I see a sanitation crew, I hop off and give them flowers.

“Thank you!” smiles a young guy with a shaved head.

“Thank you, sweetheart,” says an older guy missing a front tooth, and immediately pins the flower to his uniform.

I leave plumeria blossoms in a Dockweiler Beach bathroom: one blossom in the soap dish of each of three sinks. They look stunning against the silver.

Shame eventually fades as I pedal along and watch the ocean. After locking the bike, I walk down the Marina del Rey jetty, and see a snowy egret and two harbor seals. Everyone’s fishing.

Maybe collecting fallen blossoms IS the same as picking them, in the eyes of whoever owns that plot of earth. (If anyone can actually own the Earth, but that’s another essay.)

It was the man’s tone that cut me: you’re a bad girl. Something I have believed for most of my life. But maybe John was always going to die. Maybe Mom and Dad were always going to leave, either physically or emotionally. Maybe their behavior has nothing to do with my inherent goodness or badness. Maybe it’s just the way things are. Maybe I don’t have to apologize for my existence.

I won’t collect any more plumeria blossoms from the bushes in Manhattan Beach.
I will buy my own and plant them in the sun near my home. And when they bloom, I will give the blossoms away to whomever wants them.

“No shame, no blame, everything’s beautiful,” said a dancer friend once during rehearsal. Exactly.



I live beneath a vacation rental. Sometimes the noise from the tenants is tremendous. Clomp clomp clomp, sprint back and forth! bang pots around, play the television so loudly that I can hear every word Meredith Grey says to her colleagues at the hospital.

I wear earplugs. And ear muffs I bought at a hunting store. Many decibels deadened. And yet I can still hear them. Wah wah wah wah, like the adults in the Peanuts comic strip.

It doesn’t matter what you do
they don’t care about you
It doesn’t matter how you feel
they don’t care about you
It doesn’t matter what you say
they don’t care about you
They do not care about you.

That voice – I heard it distinctly this morning, full of schadenfreude: mean and smug with a nasty overtone – I have believed that voice for most of my life. It’s in my head. Which means:
~I don’t express my feelings
~I don’t defend myself
~I don’t speak up
~I don’t leave.

I tolerate
…and tolerate
…..and tolerate
…….and tolerate

until I crash and burn, poisoned by noise and other people’s bad behavior.

And they are oblivious, mostly.

Why am I so polite? Who am I protecting by not speaking my mind?
Why protect them, and not me?
Why not me?
Waiting for someone else to care is a waste of my time.

But today I heard that voice, that “They don’t care about you” voice, for what it was:


Not fact. Just sounds.

It’s really none of my business whether anybody cares about me or not.
My business – my job – is to care about me, to care for me.

And sometimes that means speaking up:
“Get your hands off my body, Director.”
“No, that doesn’t work for me, Boss.”
“I don’t think so, Mom.”
“Turn that stinking generator off and move it away from my windows, Landlord.”

I need privacy. I need solitude. I need quiet. I need peace.
Which starts with me.

So, break the silence. Stop tolerating. State my needs. And then set about meeting them.

Hold on–

Okay, I’m back. I just went around the corner to explain to the new upstairs tenants that their floor is my ceiling and I’d appreciate it if their Ring Around the Rosie fell down outside. “Your hardwood floor amplifies everything,” I said.

“We’ll try to keep it down,” said one of the many adults apparently living there until Saturday.

I don’t think I said Thank you. I was over the edge. Noise scrambles my brain, makes it hard to breathe.

Swimming helps, except I’m afraid of the ocean, or rather the big predatory creatures in the ocean. Which is funny, because there are big predatory creatures walking around the land mass every day – humans. There are several stomping around above my head right now.

Meditation helps. Singing helps. Walking helps. The ocean definitely helps.
But mostly speaking helps.
Speaking my truth, whether anyone else cares or not.
Because I DO.


I wash my clothes by hand – all of them. Detergent sensitivities prevent me from using my landlord’s washer and dryer, or public facilities.

Pain in the ass.
Until recently.

I bought a small, hand-cranked washing machine with a pressurized lid. It cleans like a front-load washer. I can fit my entire sheet set inside, including the pillow case. (Yeah, it’s a twin bed, but still!)

My biceps complained, initially, but then I got used to it. On cold mornings it’s a great warm-up. I use less detergent, and my clothes are softer and cleaner. And about a month after I stopped forcing myself to use others’ stinky machines, my lungs breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now they’re much more inclined to inhale deeply.

Tidying guru Marie Kondo believes you should only keep things that bring you happiness and contentment. She recommends divesting yourself of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

Now that I hand wash my clothes, I’ve noticed a certain reluctance to clean certain things. Because I am using my physical energy, as opposed to money (which I earn with my physical energy, but is now a step distant), I am reluctant to wash the t-shirt a not-a-friend-it-turned-out gave me. Or the mawkish Thanksgiving apron. Or the much loved, bought-brand-new-when-I-was-homeless hoodie that is showing wear and tear.

With big electric washers and dryers, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of clothes without thinking too much about them. White? in you go. Blue and purple? next load.

Washing my own clothes with my own brawn (and brains! figuring out the best cloth-to-water ratio has proved not as easy as advertised) is actually quite satisfying.

Today, inspired by Ms. Kondo, I sang a song of gratitude while I washed: the black v-neck I wore to star in a play; the shirt bought at Whole Foods when I was living in my car; the patterned leggings that kept me warm this winter; the soft black dress that reminds me of the one left behind; the chocolate brown tunic from France; and the underwear that literally covers my ass.

Just as every person has a story (or a million), every piece of clothing has a story, and as I washed, I remembered their stories (or the parts I know), and how each one came to me exactly when I needed it.

They are dripping dry over the tub right now, my riotous clothes, my protective gear, my personable apparel. Cleansed of sweat, sand, salt, dirt, and tears.
Domo arigato.