Wednesday, March 13, 2013


My midlife crisis is going well. Thank you very much.

Painting by Hector Arrache.
To be honest, crises rarely go well at all. I haven't taken up with a lover, or traded in my SUV for a sports car. Rather I rename myself Coatlicue, eat the hearts of virgin artichokes. I am more Mexican than Mexicans these days. I wear big coral jewelry and linen clothing, summon the soul of Frida Kahlo. Burning sage, and channeling the spirits of plant people. I paint on eyebrows, and speak in halfie Spanish, smoke cigarillos, and keep a pet monkey. Paint large garish paintings of myself bleeding and naked.

That's not true either.

I haven't been writing or painting much. Not anything for public consumption, that is, just nightmare angst poetry that makes this seem more like Teenage Life Crisis, Part Deux. And in the end, I'm not sure I ever quite stopped crisising, from teenage life to midlife. It is much the same angst. Always about passion, too much or not enough. Mercury retrograde makes everything wrought, sensitive. Communication difficult. The illusion that we are moving backward instead of ahead, but we always move forward, even if it is slowly. This Mercury retrograde is in a water sign, and it means all this past emotional stuff comes back to us, stares us in the face.

I do not know if I have ever noticed Mercury retrograde so poignantly in all my life. I feel stripped bare, staring at my old selves, retelling those stories with the people who were there, watching the trauma unfold, like a origami tiger.

Why, that is just a piece of paper, I exclaim. A colorful, fierce thing easily carried by the wind.

Photo by Howard Linton.
I had coffee with an old friend who I've known for twenty-two years. He talked about the eighteen year old me, brave and impulsive, hyper and curious, political and passionate. And the stories he told were ones we have told each other and others for two decades, but they sounded different this time. Stories of kung-fu and rock climbing and Buddhist monasteries with tequila and cliff diving. Of changing drivers in a moving vehicle near the SETI fields of New Mexico.We laughed, and I scolded him for telling my children such salacious tales of their mother. And though I was smiling, part of me felt so sorry for that girl. My children found a little slide of me the day before he visited. It is me at age twenty-one, posing from behind, showing off my tattoo. And it is that girl I think of, so damaged and broken, reaching out for something to fill that hole inside of her.Danger or booze or adrenaline or Buddha or men or fighting or loving. The past comes back again and again, makes itself present, until you deal with who you were and who you are. It is the Mercury retrograde.

Besides my old friend, I have been these same types of conversations with all these major figures in my life, my ex-husband, my current husband, my sister and others. They are hard, important conversations that I cannot believe we haven't had in the last twenty years. And they just keep coming up, even when I avoid them, reject them, beg them to be done. But I am grateful for the fearlessness of everyone involved. G. keeps reminding me and himself that every mistake, every bad decision, made us who we are today, capable of the radical love we are capable of today. In one low moment, I said to him, "I just don't think the person I am now is all that worth holding onto. I would change the past if I could." But I wouldn't. In my highest moment, the moments I want to reign, I have no judgment about me. No label of good or bad, just me--a bum trying to do the next right thing, like most of us.

In these conversations, I have realized that the suffering I have gone through in the last twenty years, the self-inflicted suffering to the random chaos suffering, has dramatically increased my capacity for unconditional love. It is only now that I can unconditionally love the people who most deserve that, who most need it. I could never unconditionally love my ex-husband, even though that is what he needed. He needed radical acceptance, but I was incapable of radically accepting myself, let alone anyone else. Every emotion and act back then was conditional on his behaviour. All of it told a story about my worth. Attention, love, affection toward me, as well as attention, love and affection toward others, measured my own meaning. It drew some conclusion about my body, my thinness, my intelligence, my charm, my beauty. That love or lack of love on their part had nothing to do with my fatness or unworthiness. It never did. That is what twenty years and the death of my daughter has brought me. Releasing the need to judge my worth in relation to other people's actions. I want nothing from them.

These realizations have been fundamentally contingent upon Lucia's death. Her death and my grief magnified those feelings of worthiness or rather unworthiness. It opened the thin layer of skin between the hole inside me and the world. And it sucked in all the shit from everyone else. Her death amplified that feeling that if I were just better, thinner, faster, smarter, more compassionate, nicer, kinder, sexier, that she would have lived. It was ultimate fuck-you from the universe. She died because a cord got pinched, or maybe she just died because her heart couldn't take it. Or maybe she lived her life exactly as long as she needed. And it has nothing to do with me at all. How narcissistic of me to think that my baby's death was about my worthiness to be a mother. And conversely, the love others felt or didn't feel toward me maybe had nothing to do with me. Their ability to be present for my grief, or my marriage, or my parenting, or my recovery, or my daughter's death or me entire life also has nothing to do with me at all. And in that realization, I am free to release judgments about my worthiness again. It opens me to love unconditionally the people around me, the humans coexisting with me, all of them equally, perhaps even myself.

There is a kind of trauma in getting older, realizing that you cannot change the past, and time has moved forward in spite of your efforts to stop seeing time as linear. But you can change how you see the past, how you interact with it, how you judge it. I have empathy for me at age seventeen, twenty-nine, thirty-four. I feel sorry for that girl, sometimes. Sorry for her pain, for the suffering she inflicted upon herself. But I hold her, soothe her, remind her that her decisions were the best that could be made with the information she had.

My midlife crisis and Mercury retrograde come together in this perfect storm. And I have examined every part of my life for passion in the last month. I have looked at who I was, who I am and who I want to be. Though I liked my schooling, it wasn't something I was passionate about. I had to admit it. But I was pouring money, time away from my family and all my residual energy into it. So, I made the difficult decision to walk away. I haven't walked away from much in my life. I live in it, punish it, punish me, until it nearly kills me. I am stubborn about commitments. Headstrong and demanding on the things not working for me. Because I desperately wanted to be right. Right trumped being happy every single time. I stayed in bad relationships, drank for too long, rode my bike much too long, worked in shitty environments until I nearly threw myself out windows. But this time is different. I stared at old me and new me. Old me massaging new me. Old me judging new me. My body is so different now, so low and full and maternal. I look like a mother earth statue naked. Big belly and boobs, and thighs, and getting undressed was mildly excruciating, to expose my dead baby body to people every week. And I looked at it. Am I doing this to be right or happy? Am I undressing and massaging strangers because I am passionate about it, or because I think this is what I need to do to make peace with my body and my life? The trauma of who I was and who I am converged. I didn't want to push through that pain, because I realized I was stubbornly trying to make the me now passionate about something the twenty year old me wanted. I was punishing me, humiliating me, because I still haven't accepted me. I don't love me unconditionally. I was making me walk this public line of exposure and acceptance because I wanted to skip the slow steady love that comes with maturing into my body and self-forgiveness.

Drinking paralyzed important parts of me. It froze the past and the past me. I thought one day I might return to that brazen, strong, funny person I was at age twenty. I would wake up thin and flawless and untraumatized. But that is impossible. This Mercury retrograde fell across my path at exactly the time I needed to release all that anger and guilt and resentment toward me. Now, this is the me worthy of trying something. This is the me worthy of passion. This is the me practicing self-compassion. This is the me walking away.