How To Turn 40

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In the near future, I will turn 40. I will have crawled and walked on this planet for four decades! When my mom turned forty, her friends held a funeral for her. They all wore black. They decorated the house with black wreaths, black flowers and black streamers. And, of course, they garnished the cake with icing that gloated, “Over the Hill” in my mom’s face. I was a teenager, and I thought to myself, “It must be a terrible thing to turn forty. How sad.”

Over the last few months, I have been dreading turning the big 4-0. I have come up with imaginary scenarios where my friends and colleagues suddenly think I am too old to have fun, look young, have energy or contribute anything inspiring or new to the world. I even thought about sending my family members and same-age friends private messages on Facebook begging them NOT to write Happy 40th on my Wall. I even considered removing the ability for friends to post on my Wall.

Being a performer, I started looking ahead at theatre roles like Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy, assuming I would be blacklisted from younger roles and would have to go through a dry spell until I could play much older. (I’m not neurotic or anything.) I was convinced that my students would no longer relate to me because they would shelve me in that “much older person” category. I thought about lying about my age when asked in the workplace.

I lost sleep, indulged in Netflix shows that dealt with either immortals or female actors older than me who look amazing. One day, I needed assurance. Others, I needed denial and fantasy. Recently, at a party with newer friends, I decided to reveal my big secret, that I was turning forty, to a couple of trusty confidantes. When I shared the information, there was no shock. In fact, none of them even cared. They didn’t even seem surprised (somewhat do my dismay).

After thinking about the non-reactions of my friends and having a philosophical conversation with my rational, wise husband, my perspective began to change. My friends are comfortable being their ages. They don’t have a head-case-style issue with age at all. So, my age, even my character-age on the stage, is completely irrelevant to them. They care about my talent and my skills on the stage, not my age. They care about the person I am, not how old she is. 

My husband reminded me that if I were living in a more primal, tribal time in our history, I wouldn’t even have lived this long. Even if I had lived that long, I would not understand how to count time in the manner that we do today. Besides, no one thinks of 40 the way people did when my mom turned that age. And if I look back at pictures of Mom at 40, I look A LOT like her. She is beautiful, youthful, inspiring and full of energy at 40, so I must try to believe the same could be true of myself.

So, the best way I know to turn 40 is to say, “It’s my birthday, and I’m 40, and that’s awesome. And I am so grateful for all of the wonderful things in my life and that I have had enough years to put myself in this quandary. Bring it on!”

For now, I am still 39. One day soon I will be 40. I don’t think much will have changed. I don’t think I will have developed new fine lines or rhino-horns overnight. I don’t think my hair will have turned solid white or that no one will want to talk to me or hire me anymore. But maybe I’ll be a little wiser as I come out of this silly little age closet. Less afraid. Who knows? I might surprise you. Or even better…myself!

How To Buy a House Without Having Your Teeth Pulled

My husband and I just uprooted ourselves along with our two dogs and three cats and moved to a new house. Moving is supposed to be one of the most stressful life events, and although our move was one based in excitement and choice, it did not come without stress. Putting our old house on the market required a million tiny little updates that added up to weeks of tedious labor. Working with the bank and realtors on securing our new home was a wild experience full of mishaps and odd quirks that often made us question whether or not we were making the right choice. Yet, at the end of the stress storm, we signed our names thirty or so times on binding documents prepared in a musty attorney’s office. Amidst the fatigue and elation of holding the physical key to our new home, we began our journey. The big move.

So many times throughout the process of moving, we worried about our cats and the transition they would be making. One of our cats, Sugar Frances, is sensitive to change and would likely develop a bladder infection or mark territory everywhere. Another cat, Dobby, true to his Harry Potter house-elf-inspired name, is mischievous, and would likely jump off the balcony of our new porch, injuring himself. But our third cat, Luna, would be perfect, easy and accommodating to all. Luna is a Yoda-like cat and is often the wisest presence in our family—hence her Harry Potter Ravenclaw namesake. Luna would be the last one to worry about. She would even teach the dogs how to adjust.

During the buying and moving process, there was much pain. Emotional pain from stress. Intellectual pain from dealing with incompetent business people. Physical pain and exhaustion from the intense cleaning, home repairs and packing. My husband and I were always verbal about the pain we felt as we tried to give birth to our new house—our new home. We needed to curse, scream, laugh hysterically, dance like a troll—whatever needed—to stay healthy. Our success of health came from our freedom to acknowledge our pain.

Cats are different, it turns out. We learned this the hard way. Luna, the most resilient, agreeable House Ravenclaw cat in the world, turned out to be in serious pain. Just after moving, at a routine check up with our new vet, our doctor explained that over half of Luna’s teeth were severely decayed, many rotting from the inside out, making it hard to see. He explained that cats hide their pain, even more so than dogs, and that Luna was in extreme pain and would need surgery. Hiding pain is a survival instinct from the wild.

In all of the huffing and puffing over our move and worrying over our other pets, I never saw Luna’s acute pain. She had been covering it up brilliantly. I can’t imagine that—feeling like showing my pain or my stress would be a sign of weakness. A bad thing. Having had my share of dental surgeries, I am particularly empathetic to the stress of mouth pain and in awe of Luna’s ability to hide hers.

Today I am sitting in a coffee shop, watching people, wondering if they are able to share their pain with each other, or if they think they somehow must bottle it all up. I am thankful for my mouth and my ability to chew food. I am thankful for my new home. I am thankful for my ability to express my stress through creative means. I am looking. Looking at the people. Seeing cats.

Haunted Christmas Tree

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This holiday season, I find myself more fatigued than ever. I have become so busy over the last six months that it is hard to believe it is December. I keep saying, “Wasn’t it August just a few weeks ago?” Yet, my body tells me that much has happened. Many projects have been completed. I have been looking forward to this break—this time to stop for a bit and breathe in the holiday—before the new year throws me right into the fast lane again.

Now in my journey to stop and to rest, I find myself becoming agitated and downright grumpy. I am like Scrooge halfway through his nightmare with the Spirits. I am haunted. I am exhilarated. I am baffled. I am not completely at peace with it all yet. I am in my own Advent darkness hoping for the light that is always promised.

This Christmas, I am haunted by my Christmas tree. It is decorated with so many different ornaments. They reflect my Christmas past and present. One ornament is a nest of two birds that my brother and I reached for each year we decorated the branches of our tree as kids. There is a homemade paper ornament that keeps memory of a parakeet I had in my early twenties. It reminds me of my sweet little blue bird, but also those beginning years right out of college with my best friends. We had a simple tree with homemade paper ornaments and popcorn garland. It wasn’t a fancy-pants tree, but we were proud of it, and we poured our hearts into it as we created the ornaments. I look at that ornament and remember being silly with my friends and how much I miss them now that we live in different cities. There’s a stuffed Papa Smurf ornament in honor of my Grandaddy, who died twenty years ago. He was a great mentor and friend to me; I was always his “Smurf” and he was my “Papa Smurf”. The stuffed ornament makes me smile and remember how much fun we had together, but it also makes me miss Grandaddy even more.

At the top of this memory hill that I climb when I look at my tree, is the most painful, haunting ornament of all—a dalmatian in a gift box that represents my late dog, Lily. I realize this year, that after all of the crying and the terrible pain that has come as a result of her death 16 months ago, I still haven’t fully grieved her.

The tree haunts me. It teaches me that I must hang my present day grief on it. I have to allow it to break my heart completely open so that I can see the guiding gestures of the Spirit of What-Is-To-Become. I am grateful for the tree, and one day I will appreciate the pain. It is proof that I have known love, know love, and will continue to know love. In this season of celebrating miracles and birth, I am swimming in the inevitable cycle of death, looking for my own infancy to return. In the meantime, I am resting in Mother Mary’s womb, waiting for the contractions to begin.

Gryffindor Is Real

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI find myself living in a different world lately—one not so different from the one in my imagination. At moments, I am physically present in places that remind me of my dreams—meaning sleeping dreams—and also the dreams that are my aspirations in life.

My husband and I visited Universal Studios recently and were completely captivated by the world of Harry Potter. I am a huge Harry Potter geek. I have all of the books, movies and even the audio books. I am officially sorted into “Gryffindor” on pottermore.com, and delightfully enough, my husband is officially a member of “Slytherin” house.

When we entered Diagon Alley at the theme park, I became quite emotional because I felt like I had come home. I was physically entering a place I had only dreamed could become a part of my real life. As I left the park that day, after drinking Butterbeer, eating in the Leaky Cauldron and literally taking in the scenery, I realized that this imaginary land is no less real than the street I live on. There is community, good food, excitement, hope, thrill and whimsy. I feel alive in it. I come alive in it.

Growing up in the theatre, I often fantasized about plays and musical I would one day perform. But I also lived in this dream world where I worked alongside those performers who were my idols. In that dream world, I stayed content, knowing that in reality, I would always somehow keep those superstars of the stage far enough away from me to feel separate—to keep them exotic and me plain.

YetOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA recently, one of my all-time favorite Broadway stars, called me on the phone and asked me to direct a musical with him. I remember feeling like I was in Harry Potter land all over again. I was sitting on my back porch in the mountains watching my hound dogs play in the yard. I saw I had received a voicemail. Neutrally, I check the message. When I heard his voice and his request for me to call him, I was in shock. All of sudden, I could taste Butterbeer in my mouth. I could see the vaulted ceiling of The Leaky Cauldron. I was the star of the Quidditch team.

The dreams of my imagination and the dreams of my career were merging and all of it was real and happening. I am still deciphering this swirling of atmosphere that I continue to dance in. What I do know is that there is a real Hogwarts out there, and I am flourishing in and out of its doors, dancing with the exotic and the plain, and living in a dream that is more real than anything I have ever been able to create in my sleep. I like being awake these days.

Pan-fried Freedom

Having grown up in the South around many vegetable gardens, okra is part of my culinary identity. In fact, I do not feel like it is officially summer until I have had my first batch of fresh okra. Although I enjoy okra steamed, baked and pickled, my favorite way of eating it is pan-fried. I grew up eating pan-fried okra grown by my family. Mom would magically, lightly dust it with flour and sizzle it up in a big iron skillet of vegetable oil. In my gluten free adulthood, I have my own version of that recipe, playfully doused with rice flour and made crisp and sassy in a pan of coconut oil and sea salt.

fireworksLast night, I had my first fresh batch of the summer. I knew that even if I prepared other foods to eat for dinner, I would be wasting them, so instead, I ate a giant plate of okra. My toes wiggled while my stomach and taste buds thanked me for the gift of familiar, reliable flavor. The sensory experience stirred my imagination and I was transported back in time. I was ten again. I was playing outside under sunflowers, eating raw cucumbers from the vine in our garden and pretending to be anyone I wanted to become alongside my best friend and playmate. Okra has the power to send me right back to my childhood days where I played with an immense feeling of freedom.

Freedom. The gift of Independence is celebrated this weekend in our country. Simple moments remind me of my freedom as a human soul on this journey of knowing and seeking love in the world. I am thankful to okra for allowing me to revisit that innate freedom I knew as a child, and I am grateful for the earth who gives birth to such lovely crops, allowing me to have new playmates each summer.

Water Purifiers for the Brain

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am sitting on the porch of my rented beach house for the week. The sun, salty air, and quirky people settling in little sand communities remain the same as they were when I was a little girl. My family has been coming to the beach for a full week each summer for over thirty five years. We enjoy hanging out with other, cooking, eating, swimming and just catching up on our life stories in this beautiful setting.

The solitary moments at the beach are also nurturing. When I am alone, I find myself in duet with the rhythms of the waves. Water has always been an important part of my upbringing. In the Southern Baptist church, I was dunked into water when I was baptized. The idea of water used for purification, to symbolically wash away sins always made me uncomfortable because it was laced with negativity and a need to set something in me right that was evidently wrong before I was even born. Water made me feel helpless when I saw it presented as a form of purification in this way.

Yet at the same time, I have always loved water. I have always loved swimming in water, and walking through the beach puddles that form in the sand. This year, the concept of water as a purifier is different for me. I recently participated in a three day ceremony, presented by two incredible Shaman women, that focused on balancing the feminine and masculine energies within each of us.

One of the rites we received was done at an old river in the mountains. I was able to release the things that weigh me down and encourage me to remain in old patterns that no longer serve me. This form of purification was different. The water gave invitation to choose which parts of myself I no longer wanted to keep—the parts that are really not a part of who I am—and to give them away so they could flow downstream.

I chose to release myself from Pride, Envy, Attachment to Agendas, Anxiety over Outcomes, and Self-Sabotage, or playing small. I have done much release work in my life, but this time, the ceremony and its overall character was completely different.

Today, at the beach, I have a true friendship with the purifying offerings of the sea. The friendship is rooted in my own beauty, the ebb and flow of my inner being. My brain is released into the white caps of the waves that require no linear thoughts to over process it. Ego has been liquidated, filtered and re-salted with the flavor of peacefulness.

 

Big Bears and Dandelions

 

photoLately, I have been stifled by fear centered around publishing my memoir. When I finally put my life out there, and in that great story, include my truth around the lives of others who have appeared on my path, there will be consequences. I have been working with my spiritual mentor, trying to uncover the cloudiness that hovers around my fear.

 

I have written a spiritual memoir from a place of peace and gratitude even when working through the most painful moments. I have found many opportunities for using humor to find that greater perspective which allows for compassion and honor of my own imperfections and those of others—that great inevitability we all share.

 

Yet I have been stuck. I have been caught in quicksand or the devil’s snare that is found in the world of Harry Potter. Yesterday, I spent the day in careful focus of my current state of heart, and I was surrounded by a playful string of events that stirred my courage once again. I found my eyes opened to three meaningful encounters.

 

Firstly, I read about people raising money for a dog they had never met who needed a life-saving surgery. Within several hours, the thousands of dollars needed for this little dog were made possible. I felt full of hope and joy and was reminded of the greatness of people—the beauty they are able to bring to darker circumstances. This breath of reality was the perfect medicine.

 

Secondly, I watched a video on YouTube about a man who gave up his cushy career and sold all of his assets to start a foundation against animal poaching. He inspired me with his words. They haunted me even, because they contained an important message—that putting your truth in the world is more important than hiding, for fear of becoming unpopular, chided, or shunned when your purpose or message is not the acquired norm of your own culture.

 

Thirdly, as I drove home last night, I saw a dark shadow in the road. The shadow turned out to be a large black bear. I’d never seen a black bear that grand, and certainly not that close to roads and homes, even in my rural mountain community. The bear moved into a nearby yard, and as he continued to move away, he turned for a swift moment and we caught each other’s eyes. The bear reminded me of the courage and integrity required in finding and following your own path. Sometimes hibernation is key until clarity comes. When the frost melts from around your clouded vision, you must charge forward, even in unknown terrain, and trust that you will meet yourself in a field of possibilities where your heart’s desire grows like wild dandelions.

 

I am inspired by the last stanza of the great Celtic poet, John O’Donohue’s poem, a blessing about decision making. It is my food for meditation as I claim my inner bear and dare to roll in a bed of wildflowers.

 

“May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us;

Trust that a richer life awaits us there,

That we will lose nothing

But what has already died;

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

The pale frames where we stayed confined,

Not realizing how such vacant endurance

Was bleaching our soul’s desire.”

 

 

Pubs Can Be Green

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(Photo from Dick Mack’s Pub in Dingle Town)

There are certain pop culture rituals that I enjoy about St. Patrick’s Day that have nothing to do with my pride of Irish lineage (mixed with other European roots). The rituals garnish my American need for anything that feels “Celtic”. Having visited Ireland with my best friend five or so years ago, I gained a deeper spiritual connection to myself, to God, and to my ancestry. As I learned about Celtic Spirituality, which was later customized to represent Christian Spirituality, I realized that many of the concepts—really, ways of life—fit into the natural connection to the Divine that I had as a child. One of the early Celtic Christian concepts included a belief that every child is born with the face of God upon her. The newborn child is never flawed, with much to regret before even figuring out how to say “ma-ma” or “da-da”. The freedom of playing with God without any hiding—without any agenda—is possible when I drink in the energy that dances through the green lands.

When I muse upon St. Patrick’s Day in America, I think about people in funny green outfits drinking Guinness, or Harp that has been transformed into a green punch by the miracle of food coloring. I think about the silliness of all of it, and it makes me smile. I think about people in plastic green necklaces or shamrock hats hanging out in pubs, talking, having a good drink and some food, and most importantly, havin’ a laugh. Even within the plastic-ness of the Americanized holiday, there is good old fashioned communion taking place among friends and a willingness to let down our guards for an hour or two.

My best friend and I ate 90% of our meals in pubs when we visited Ireland, and we found an authentic “you are in my kitchen and living room” kind of atmosphere everywhere we went. Even though we stuck out like sore thumbs as non-Irish visitors, we were welcomed by the people we met and the conversation was always easy. Being in those pubs or those green lands that are infused with Spirit, I was reminded of the connection I have with my own family and community and that I can be Irish in it with great authenticity any time I please.

I wrote the following poem on that trip to Ireland, during time spent in Dingle Town. The poem is also included in Chapter 11 of my new book, God Is Not a Bully, which focuses on my own Celtic Spirituality. Enjoy!

 

The Pub

 

banjo speaks robust triplets

crimson old buckets

dangle from Dingle ceilings

older than any relatives yet to be known.

 

musicians in sync

like a heartbeat

and cordial harmonic jazzercise

letting a yee haw

carry its connective tissue

to our honorary local status

quickly fizzing like grape poprocks

 

musicians in duet

whistle of anything that is yours

now and tomorrow

or even in a dream

of grass skirts

in a warmer climate

 

love of a wooden

mahogany bar

of toffee crunch

with wear-and-tear

that makes beauty

seem one syllable less

of its worth

 

silver masculine curls

under western brimmed

black velvet unbeckoning

a rumbly strummer

perfect like punctuality

in a creative way

 

beer bubbles inspire

heavy pen-glazed pages

a vacant extreme gratitude

like sheep sheered

from a heavy dandruff

in skin cell relief

 

carrot and dill

on brown bread

with cod and friendship

as the music begins again

white vinegar and pepper

ground like baby powder

among burnt orange walls

and a reel at the fireplace

 

humorous accounts

embellish gratitude

embossed by free-trade coffee beans

arriving off the harbor

a not instant-powder form

with the same magnitude

as a pint of stout

 

and the killer sheep of Ireland

remember their true loves

while a tried-true tune is gutturally placed

in the resonating mask

of heartful, calm waters

and a reminder of home

a Christmas to come

and a family still

making the same warmth

among their own tunes

 

and humor of

our changing lines

and ageless ceremony

that brings the great melodic chant

back into the aural soul

night into night

 

Earthy Valentine

despacho 3I live in the rural North Carolina mountains. My neighborhood consists of open fields framed by mountains, small houses and tractors. I spend much of my free time outside during the warmer seasons, so during the winter, I often feel a sense of longing for the return of my communion with the land. This separation anxiety has been especially strong for me this winter after having lost my loving, sweet dog, Lily, in the late summer. Having new dog children in my home brings a remembrance of Lily’s puppy days, and her early years full of wild energy revisit me through their playful discovery-energy. While embracing the grief that comes with loss, I have become more connected to the grief that sits on my own land. I am more in tune, on a regular basis, with its majestic possibilities while remembering that it also holds its own historical memories of loss.

In honor of this wisdom-loss-grief-hopeful state of melancholy I have invited and honored this winter, I have been exploring ceremonies that offer gratitude and healing to the land. As I offer my own gifts of gratitude and send out my prayers for healing in my life and for the greater mother earth, I find my communion with the Divine to be richer and closer in every breath I take. I have been working with a shamanic healer—a good friend and mentor—and she has helped me bring fresh perspective to the connection between myself and the land I inhabit.

Recently, she guided me through a creative, re-centering ceremony—the despacho. It is literally a sending of prayers for healing and gratitude to the land on which I dwell and the greater earth mother who cradles me in this human life form. Using symbols that consisted of foods, flowers, spices and more, we said individual prayers that related to the meaning of each object. Some of the prayers were for family. Some for the land. Some for my own person. Some for the greater world. All of them were placed into a beautiful montage, blessed, and wrapped in paper.despacho 1

despacho 2The despacho offering is an organic, inspired, physical Valentine. I buried it on my land and honored all it represents—that greater whole of possibility and medicine of abundant love. This Valentine’s Day, I am in love with the land, and although it is cold and covered in snow, I know that much is happening beneath the surface, beyond what my eyes can now see. The abundance is already blooming, and the garden that is just a few weeks around the corner will surely be authentic and untangled.