Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Sound of Somewhere Else


I am lying in my bed at dawn listening to the sound of the train. Thinking of travel.   That sound of somewhere else.  And returning.  The Rhinecliff station, only steps away from my porch, is the center of the quirky 17th century hamlet, I happily call home.  Summer is lurking, in spite of the snow-filled winter that finally ended.  The gray, and dirt mottled mounds, that seemed would never go away in parking lots and suddenly narrow streets in our towns, and villages and hamlets throughout the Hudson Valley and most of the surrounding Northeast, stretching through the Midwest, and the Northwest, and most destinations south, made it difficult to imagine summer could ever return.  The polar vortex that kept us all somewhat frozen in a winter that overlapped into our spring, has finally ceased.   

The predawn train whistle beckons me to my upcoming summer.  I have travelled vastly the past two summers.  In almost constant motion miles away from a life, a marriage, and a growing anxiety, I have travelled instead toward freedom, peace and a growing calm.  As summer hesitantly approaches with great reluctance, I am beginning to feel some level of unease.  And I am uncertain if it feels related to staying, as opposed to going, or if I am in need to go out, far away, and back onto the road to places not yet seen.  And even places I wish to see again, deeper, with closer attention to detail.  Cities and states, friends and relatives, diverse landscape.  New Orleans.  Denver.  Charleston. Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska.  Maybe Montana, North Dakota, Washington, and Oregon? The past two years I had eeked out the funding and stretched a dollar far beyond the elasticity of the linen fibers that keep the floating Eye of Providence afloat by packing a tent, staying with friends and family, and hotel.com-ing or hotwire-ing it across this vast and beautiful continent.  

I have been blessed and restored.  I have new stories and adventures that warm me and make me smile.  Dancers in Zuni Pueblo, bikers in Sturgis, campers in Grand Teton, a warm and generous mother in Idaho, a new friend in New Orleans, they have all shared parts of their stories with me and by doing so, have become part of mine.  The call to go back out on the road is strong.  "Annuis Coeptis", the latin message on my out stretched dollars might help me decide, whether to stay or travel. The translation: Favors the things having been begun.  

There is also the clearer, and at times, welcome reality that it is time to stay.   That I am safe, that I no longer need to run or be in constant motion to avoid or deny.  That if I stop I will not fall to my knees, broken, but will stand, poised and ready for what’s to come.  Knowing, finally, I am ready to transport my strength and courage, my love and forgiveness forward.  I can begin in earnestness unpacking and releasing baggage and trappings that have weighed me down.  Or remind me of a time and life in need of mercy and grace and a one way ticket to never again and no more.

The hissing screech of forged steel wheels on a steel trajectory follows the low mournful whistle, calling sleepy commuters to the station.  A few tourists, travelers, vagabonds mixed in, I am certain.  They are called by the sound of somewhere else, of adventure and something not yet known.  Of more and of less than they have seen and felt before.  Godspeed my friends. 

As I rise to get ready for work, I notice my topography map is in need of unfolding.   I think of my hiking gear, in the trunk of my car, almost ready.  It will need to be inventoried, carefully repacked and a few items replaced or repaired.  This summer I will stay closer. Trekking through those faraway peaks that line the Adirondacks.  I will stand poised and ready. Forever wild, at tree line, awaiting my next adventure. 

And there’s always the Amtrak station in Westport, the Adirondack line carrying passengers to Canada, all stations north, and then Northwest if one cares to go.  All aboard for beginning what has begun once more.   

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Couple of Consciously Crafted Alternative Endings

I’ve recently been struggling through another bout of post-divorce shock, or maybe aftershock would be a more accurate descriptor.  The prolonged impact of this (un)natural disaster has continued long past necessary.  In much the same way, nine years post Hurricane Katrina, sections of New Orleans remain in disrepair.  I can’t quite imagine when the fury of the storm that has continued to circle my path will meet it’s maximum destructive potential, diminish and decease.  I wonder what might appease the storm maker.  I wonder how divorce could be less destructive. 

And then without warning, a torrential storm of media input comes by way of Gwyneth Paltrow and her husband Chris Martin.  They recently announced their separation.  She wrote about it.  She coined a beautiful term, Conscious Uncoupling.  I read and reread the phrase, turning it over in my mouth like it is manna from the heavens.  I want to feel each syllable with my tongue, carefully and joyously.  Like saying juxtaposition for the first time, or snicker-doodle or piccalilli.  Conscious Uncoupling, it sounds so much sweeter than Divorce.  There are criticisms and commentary about the Gwynethness of it all.  As though she twirled and whistled atop the corpse at a funeral.  Instead, she is deciding to twirl and whistle her way toward something personal and private and possible and perhaps loving and respectful of her children and her partner, husband, friend.   

Do the critics and most others prefer Unconscionable Uncoupling?  The accepted form of devastation and destruction that comes far too frequently from divorce leads me to believe so. From my own experience and those close to me, from the scores of memoirs, articles, self-help books, manuals, DVDs and post divorce reconstructivist retreats, I can safely venture to say….Yep it seems some of us take great pleasure in inflicting pain and prolonging the nightmare of divorce. It would seem in our culture, we do have a need to make divorce some form of hellish punishment because the marriages that we are in need of ending weren’t quite sad, or dangerous, or unhealthy, or simply just, incompatible enough.  Why would anyone want to be able to leave a marriage peacefully when instead you could destroy the lives of your former spouse, your children, and anyone else closely related, or unfortunately in your path? While paying great heaps of cash for the pleasure?  With my head tilted sideways and through a perplexed expression, I just don’t get it!

I don’t know why Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Martin are separating or divorcing or Consciously Uncoupling.  I only know why I needed to. I once wished to shake hands and say good luck, good day, be well, go in peace, may the force be with you,  thank you very much, gracias de nada, kisses, hugs and good onya.  It took a great long time to get to that.  The years preceding most divorces are long and difficult, inconsistent, intermittently hopeful, sad and lonely, despairing and tense.

Divorce is not viewed as a positive life choice.    The barbaric battles to create terms of divorce are easily supported, if not orchestrated by lawyers that profit on prolonged contention.  Results are far removed from divorce law and often compromise legal rights in the name of a "fair settlement" that can be anything but. Too many divorce battles would make watching the gladiator fights seem like watching grass grow.  The unchecked tactics that many attorneys allow, promote and engage in with ease, furthers the damage of divorce.   Threats, unfounded allegations, fabricated tales of abuses abound without ever seeing the light of your big day in court.  These tactics help set the course for one party to submit and retreat.  

Someone once close to me suffered greatly in his marriage.  It was like watching a train wreck.  He drank to get through personal problems and issues related to his hidden sexuality.  He drank more to mask a growing depression.  He went missing, finding escape in gambling and feeding his poorly hidden drinking habit.  It became harder and harder to face his demons.  He couldn’t face his wife, and he was more and more vacant from his children.  Finally after he was arrested for a DWI following a gambling binge his wife moved out.  They had been discussing a separation for some time prior but weren’t sure how to proceed. Instead of feeling relieved, he became enraged and retaliated for being left. He neglected to see how he had left them all long ago.  He neglected to see they all would have supported any attempts for him to get healthy and heal.

Watching as he abandoned his children, I could only guess he was afraid of being exposed.  I don't think he could face being the man he imagined they saw him as.  Instead he accused his wife of being emotionally unstable and abusive, he tried to deflect and dodge any perceived harm he imagined might come his way. He believed his very public job as a school administrator might be threatened.  While he wasn’t able to convince the courts of abuse, he was able to lead his wife into a settlement far from equitable to end a painful and devastating relationship and an unfathomable divorce.   If he Consciously Uncoupled rather than attempting to Unconscionably Unhinge he could have learned how much and how long he was missed and still cared for, and how ending his marriage could have been carried out with compassion, how a peaceful divorce or Conscious Uncoupling would have been possible for him and helped him to heal, as well as, and more importantly his children.  

To what end do divorces need to be so damaging?  For what purpose? Must we embark on Competitive Uncoupling?  Everyone loses in divorce this way.  Yes even the champions that get to give up less and gain more on paper.  Maybe the champions of Competitive Uncoupling’s lose most of all.  They seem to remain dedicated to staying involved in a marriage long ago ended.  With the mantra, why be difficult when you can be impossible  (and also destructively create suffering while also remaining stuck).

I know of a lawyer that represented someone under the false premise of being an abuse victim. The lawyer fought hard against the spouse, as a self-proclaimed advocate for domestic abuse victims.  Did this lawyer fail to see the spouse she attacked had left the home without financial resources, without a car and without most of her clothing and other worldly possessions?  How could a domestic violence expert fail to spot the obvious?  In this case, her client, the purported victim, was a male, 8 inches taller and over 80 pounds heavier, with a Domestic Incident Report and additional police reports written against him.  And still the lawyer fought ruthlessly on his behalf.  Why? What needed to be fought or won?  Split the assets, set up an account for the children, shake hands, see ya bye-bye.  Why churn up the underbelly of a couples darkest moments? In the end, they still get divorced.  Why can't marriage end without added scars and missing limbs?

And still I have this way of being hopeful and wanting things to work efficiently, kindly, without pain or malice.  So here goes my big idea: What if lawyers got involved with Conscious Uncoupling?  Say maybe, helped plan the after party, reviewed the real-estate deeds and assets, equitably distributed resources toward on-going costs of childrearing including college contributions.   Better yet, what if a divorce had to be determined and presented to the courts by one single lawyer?  In the same way only one Justice of the Peace or clergyperson marries a couple?  Wow! Just think of how that alone would change the outcomes of so many divorces.  There are in fact, divorce laws that could be adhered to without need or desire for combat and destruction yielded in every direction.  Nah….that’s just silly.  If divorce were kind and consciously determined that would alter the negative impact and support positive family life in America…but we still haven’t embraced healthcare….maybe one crazy idea at a time.

I didn’t have the opportunity to Consciously Uncouple.  I did suggest the hand-shake, it went over as well as Gwyneth’s post. But Gwyneth still makes me all twirly with positive joy and possibility. I have endured all types of weather, what’s one more storm?  

I’m Country Strong and I have an Apple in my eye…. 
OK I’ll stop…

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Winter's Journey Far and Away from the Frozen Uncertainty

This morning I awoke, early, 6:05 am.  Not early, as much as my routine time to awake.  I love the morning.  The quiet. The potential, all sinuous and pulsing with possibility.  What will be discovered?  What will be exposed in the light of daybreak, that will be hidden in shadow later in the day?  I arise, shed the warmth and comfort of blankets and afghans piled high, and head to the bathroom releasing the evening’s dreams and nightmares, releasing the toxins of my angst and that of my bladder.  I wash-up, brush my teeth and head downstairs to boil water for my coffee, French-pressed. small luxury in my quiet cottage, footsteps from Lake Champlain, now frozen.

I dress, then pour my coffee, tidying the papers, and books, and left-over artifacts from a night spent in analysis of case-work, law briefs, policy… and personal tumult of one kind or another, journals, articles, pens, papers, a wine glass, not emptied.  Drinking my coffee as I set my life and my cottage back in order.  One a much easier task than the other. I drape on my coat, add a scarf, look absent-mindedly for a hat to face the cold.

The sky changing colors, reflections dancing on the frozen lake, where to go, what to find?  My cameras, several, almost buzzing with anticipation await my commands and a destination.  I drive, north, and then south again, westward into the High Peaks region.  Elizabethtown, Keene, Jay, back roads, lazy highways not well traveled, not well plowed.  Lake Placid?  Not today.  It is solitude I love in my mornings, quiet, and peace.

I drive and soon am joined by my son, my father, a friend. Ghosts and guidesuncharacteristically garrulous companions fill my thoughts and share my journey.  I drive.  Through snow, and slush and morning light.  Outside of my comfort zone, alone in a car on roads not plowed clean.  Why?  I hear my son first.  He has recently coined a term, Black Ice Generation.  It makes me smile.  He thinks my generation is afraid of foolish trifles.   There is truth to it.  I fear the roads in winter, the black ice, lurking, undetected and deadly. Like using your car phone near a gas pump.  Deadly.  I lived for some time in and around Rochester, NY.  Snow, and squalls, white-outs, black ice, nothing stops or slows down in these conditions.  And cars line the expressways, turned the wrong way, over-turned in embankments, stuck in snow banks, loud and mostly ignored reminders of the treacherous conditions. 

Yes, it is true, I am from the black ice generation.  I think of my own mother, from the ptomaine poisoning generation. Everything boiled flavorless to ensure we didn’t get ptomaine, or polio, or maybe she was fighting the fear that we might develop sophisticated taste buds and venture on, away…we did anyway. With conservative epicurean interest and suspect distrust for meat with redness or any slight pinkness revealed. Maybe I followed her lead,  if my children feared the dangers of black ice, perhaps they would stay close by where I could warn and protect them?  Instead of going to Maine and facing the fears of his mother straight on, like a winter warrior?  And my older two, going south, as far as the R or 7 or Q will take them?  No worry of black ice on the subway.

I drive on, and through the snow, is that black ice up ahead? Do I stop or slow, or pump the breaks calmly?  Do I squelch the fear and smile?  I do.  Next my father joins me. He was born in Queens, as was his wife, my mother, his children, all four.  He worked his way up the ranks as an immigrant’s son must.  Didn’t finish high school, helping instead, his single mother pay bills. He joined the Marine’s, fought the good fight, returned broken, but determined to carry on.  That’s what they did then, following the steps of that Greatest Generation, that came before them.  He married, raised children, worked, paid bills, made it into middle management, a career.  He relocated us to the far reaching rural landscape of Southern Jersey.  “God’s Country” he would boast, half-joking, but only half.  He was proud and glad to have achieved more than was expected. God’s Country I think with warmth.  He must not have seen these Adirondack Mountains.  I wish I could show him, drive him through, in my early morning journey.  I am glad he is with me now.  He loved the mornings, to drive to discover new places, or visit old haunts. I recall more than several early mornings, shared in appreciation for God, who is good, and a new day ahead.

I stop, between Keene and Lake Placid.  A trail head that I especially love.  Ice climbers making their way passing by along the road, in clusters.  The wind is blowing, my car is jostled slightly.  Vibrating, or shivering from the cold, the wind.  I conjure a friend who joins me now.  Bringing him in towards the quiet and the safety amidst tumult and ice.  Climbers now embarking the icy slides of mountains that are frozen and immovable.  That is how they present themselves today.  My friend is working his way through middle age malaise. Through whats next,  is there more, can there be, and how? Collective questions of a marriage grown more stagnant than prescribedof love and desire and what lies ahead play over in his mind.  Maybe he is staring straight ahead at what appears to be a stop point. That place in a marriage that presents the paradox of hope and desperation.  A way in or a way out? How can you know whether to leave or get it back? How do you breathe life back in?  How did you let so much go?

I think of the climbers, the ice and the mountain.  Today they are able to scale the side of this mountain straight up to the top, not so much with grace and speed, but determination and exacting sight on the crux of the climb, like the frozen grip of that place in our lives when we know we can’t go backwards but we aren’t sure which direction going forward will take us. We only know we must continue.  Sometimes something gives just slightly and it is destructive. Sometimes something gives slightly and it is life-saving and transformative. 

I think of my own marriage, the crux, the zipper fall, the crash. I have questioned whether I might have stopped too long in one place or another, lost my footing.  gronked for certain. Became lost in it, making it more difficult than the climb I had desired, or ever imagined. I am starting to see it as a first free ascent of sorts, preparing me to successfully begin my free solo, going it alone and enjoying each part of the climb.  My friend has attempted a dynamic belay, in an effort to avoid the gronk.  He is making his way toward the burgeoning bergschrund, that crevasse deepening, as it melts or breaks free from the frozen glacial plateau of the dully contented or mundane.  He will reach the summit gaining perspective from the view.  He will survive and be joyous.  He will know which direction to take at that point, but not until the 'shrund splits, without aid, his brief free solo, will determine his path.

I look up at these mountains, before leaving this friend.  I will climb again in the late spring, a longer traverse is my speed. The mountain will be green and bursting with hope.  It will be dappled in sunlight and hidden in shadow, awaiting discovery. I think of the generations of my visitors on my cold winter morning.  I think of marriage and love and family.  So much protected in fear, stifled, stagnated, sadly resented.  I want for my own children not to attempt to avoid my pitfalls and stumbles, because they might close themselves off from unknown joys, but to find their own way knowing they have different choices to make. They do not have to boil away the flavors and sacrifice pleasure for mere sustenance.  They do not have to choose between the fear of black ice and spinning out of control.  There are places in between, and outside of, beyond my purview. They can be cautiously prepared for the greatest of adventures. And know a good spin and twirl never hurt anyone.  They can reach a summit and be glad in it, knowing there are more ahead or they can stop and relish in the perfection and comfort found in the one.  They can find great satisfaction when they reach the frozen unknown, that spring comes every yearRebirth and renewal.  Life. Bursting. More. Next.

I start up my car, stuck, briefly, two climbers approach and push me out on my way.  I smile in gratitude and wave to their thumbs up farewell.  A generation of millennial proportions.  Filled with optimism and adventure.  Free, unencumbered, hopeful even in the grip of this frozen winter. I go home, alone, glad for my morning, my visitors, ghosts and guardians.  How beautiful not to have to be stuck in the winter of frozen uncertainty.  I smile, filled up with gratitude and the knowledge that spring is coming. Spirits risen.


From Wikipedia  Glossary of climbing terms: 

Bergschrund (or schrund)- crevasse that forms on the upper portion of a glacier where the moving section pulls away from the headwall. Also called a 'shrund.

Crux - The most difficult portion of a climb.

Zipper fall - fall in which each piece of protection fails in turn. In some cases when the rope comes taut during a fall, the protection can fail from the bottom up, especially if the first piece was not placed to account for outward and/or upward force.

Dynamic belay - Technique of stopping a long fall using smooth braking to reduce stress on the protection points and avoid unnecessary trauma from an abrupt stop

First free ascent (FFA) - First ascent without aid

Free solo - Climbing without aid or protection. This typically means climbing without a rope.

Gronked - Accidentally going off-route while leading and becoming lost on a rock face in an area much more difficult than the climb being attempted. The word arises from the climb "Gronk" in Avon Gorge which is notorious for this.