This Story Needs Telling. Our Stolen Cat We See Daily.

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Many years ago when I first started this blog, I did so with the intention of it being a series of epistles to my sons, a chronicle of randomness throughout our lives together which would ultimately impart a moral or character-building lesson. I see now that I have sort of destroyed that intention — from the cheap seats, this platform could be considered to have morphed into an all-about-me show, but really, if you dial in, you will see that it’s still got some good lessons and stories for the boys to go over well after I’m mushroom food — but it all just happened. Much like this story I’m about to tell. (I’ll go into the mushroom thing later.)

This is our neighbor’s cat, now.

We used to call him “Gandalf.” I’m not sure what the neighbors call him, but now we refer to him as “Stolen.”

Gandalf came to us in 2004, after our loss of Skipper to the rescue league (I think I told that story on this blog) because he was basically dropped at our doorstep when all I planned on doing was helping his senior owner learn about the breed his children dumped on him after his wife died and his kids thought he could use some company, not the hip replacement Skipper induced.

Gandalf and his sister, Beezer (aptly named from “BC” for “black cat” and the phrase “bee-cee” morphed into “Beecee Beecer…” and then of course, “Beezer” but that doesn’t matter because on her vet file, she’s referred to as “Bitsy”) were picked up from a local source (pet store — I know, I’ll never do that again) in a moment of weakness. They were born on Boxing Day 2003. My husband knew all my life that all I wanted was a male gray barn cat and when Gandalf was a kitten he showed great promise. My sister-in-law had also recently acquired two sibling cats and she said it was better to have two cats than to have one cat (hmm, they have only their black cat too now), so I told my husband to do it, get both. He did. 

Of course they were adorable. Of course they were cuddly and purred. They had blue eyes when they were babies; we knew they would not likely stay blue. They were goofy and we indulged them with all the love and attention they could withstand. It was delightful to watch them grow up.

They are cats. We learned when they were about 10 months old that we were staff. Did the love affair end? Not at all. We still appeal to their aloofness and tried to get them to interact with us, but they made it clear from their early months, that they were to be revered and observed and not really … “owned.” We tried collars. We tried bells on collars. We tried walking them on a leash (BWAHAHAHAAAAA! Such folly!) We never abandoned them and we always followed their lead. They were the cats. We invited them into our lives.

When they were about 15 months old, after they had been sterilized, they made it quite clear (have you heard a cat incessantly yowl?) that they preferred an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Gandalf more so than Beezer. He liked to roam. We loved him so much we had a chip installed in him when he was recovered at a vet’s after he roamed more than 2 miles from home one three-day weekend when we were home; we hadn’t seen him for more than a week. I’d like to thank the Sullivans for posting “found cat” signs along the path to school on the same weekend we were posting our “lost cat” signs. Closer in, he would follow us along the curb line when we would walk Maggie, our first Golden. He would follow us to school in the morning when I would drop off Connor, my oldest, to kindergarten. It was a thing we did every day: all the neighborhood children who walked to school would marvel at and try to pet our elusive yet devoted silly gray cat who stalked us along the ferns and wild lilies to the educave where I reluctantly deposited my five-year-old for his daily infusion of state-designed education. Sometimes “G” or “Gandy” (as we called him) would stay behind, looking quizzically at me as if to suggest: “That’s it? You’re leaving?! What about the one in there? What the hell?” And he would literally walk around the school and wait outside the window looking in. One morning, he found Connor’s classroom and I got a phone call.

“Mrs. Field, we believe your cat is at the school looking in the windows. Could you please get him? He’s lovely. He’s also a major distraction.”

By the time I plopped the kids in the stroller and dashed up there, to try to coax him home (I was not about to deal with a kitty kennel and a double stroller) G was vapor. He probably knew I was coming. Cats know things.

We were a team. Over the years, we began to understand each other. Gandalf simply wanted tactical support during untenable weather, a reliable food source, and a place to shit. We wanted a cat and this is how we operated. “What about Beezer?” you ask? She’s still here. She’s a curious little girl, a bit timid but she warms up to you eventually. No food required, just a gradual and earned trust. She doesn’t fancy being held. But she will endure it to escape the dogs to and from her adventures outdoors. She’s a fantastic hunter and she shows us her devotion to us with a dead mole, small snake or baby something on the doorstep every couple of weeks.

Now that I’ve updated you on our history, I will bring you up to speed (with some backstory) on the current situation.

Our neighbors, in their late 60s and early 70s, have lived on this street since its inception. They are what are referred to as “original owners.” We’ve lived here since 2000, so we’ve known them for some time. Overall, it’s been an avuncular and materteral relationship. We’ve assisted each other with lifestyle requests (lawn care after medical procedures, tool borrowing, etc.) when needed. It’s been high level with some deeper niches here and there. Our houses face each other. It’s how things can be on a “pipestem” or “private driveway” culture.

They have had their own cat, an orange male tabby, “OJ,” who was beautiful and would stare at G and Beezer with both envy and disgust. Then they had “Cricket,” the dog belonging to the frail in-law father who moved in after his wife died and his house was sold. Somewhere along the history in the last six years, OJ died, the father-in-law died, and Cricket died. It was all very sad and hard on the couple, but this is life, is it not?

“Why don’t you get another cat?” I would ask… “You loved your OJ… he was low maintenance and when you travel, cats are pretty cool with a long weekend and very easy to look after…”

“Naaaaah. Too much work. Too much hassle. My heart would break when we would lose it. I don’t want to get attached. I don’t want the expense. I don’t want to deal with another pet. Too much work. I want freedom,” would be the standard answer(s).

These conversations would often occur after they would joke about how G would sneak into their house when the garage – house door was ajar.

“He’s so faaaayast…” the wife would say between hearty laughs in her scratchy Great Lakes accent. “I cayaan’t catch him!”

I would look askance, nod in gentle acknowledgment …  my gut telling me something was “off” as we say in the woo-woo world.  Gandalf was lots of things. FAST is not one of them. He’s like the slow, lumbering, pimp-rolling cat who OWNS this street. He has nothing to rush about. He doesn’t give a crap about your car coming up the street. He watches YOU steer out of the way. I’m convinced he was part dog. We used to call him “KittyDog” as a joke, but now we call him “Stolen.”

“Well, just don’t let him develop a habit. Call me and I’ll come get him. Or just toss him out. We don’t want to confuse him.” I would say. Keeping the conversation going.

“Oh absolutely! I can deal without the cat hair! Ha! I’ll toss him!” she would say, unconvincingly.

Over the years, we started to see less and less of Gandalf at home. Our home. His home.

It got to be a problem. My kids were concerned. I would email the street: “Has anyone see Gandalf? Please let us know, the boys are very sad…” Everyone would reply “Nope. Haven’t seen him. Will let you know if we do. Will keep an eye out…” except one. Crickets. (Ha!)

One day soon after that missive, I saw G slink outside the front door of my neighbors’ house. Like he was performing the cross-campus walk of shame. Except he was simply crossing 30 feet of macadam. He was leaving the house of you know, the people who didn’t want a pet. That having a pet was too much work. That they didn’t want to get attached. That they didn’t need the expense. The hassle. They just wanted to borrow him for comfort … ?

He sauntered to my door: “mew.” I’d let him in.

This pattern continued a few more months and then I said to my husband: this has to get real, now.

Here I go again: growing up in a world where enabling, deceit and duplicity and shame and hiding truth was a way of life, I had determined when I was a young woman that even if it meant I was going to be a caustic raving troubadour of truth, that I was NOT going to live in a world where people simply didn’t own their shit.  

My husband, knowing for certain that he’d married a real liability about stuff like this and that I’d reached my limit of neighborly kindliness and looking-the-other-way -ness about it, knew he had two options: he could handle it and things would likely go nice and diplomatic or I could handle it and it was going to be like a freaking social nuclear holocaust on their asses.

He handled it. He went over to their house and had a doorstep chat about it. He had all his facts. He presented the situation and they admitted to it and hung their cat-thieving heads in shame and said they’d stop doing it.

Enter… the summer. Gandalf comes and goes. He’s happy. He’s losing weight. He’s fine.

Enter… the fall. Same. He’s never been a fan of indoor living and he wasn’t thrilled when Charlie took up residence here, but he’s a cat. He flew under the radar. He came and went as he pleased. At midnight he would howl and we would let him out. In the morning, he’d be at the doorstep mewing all, “breakfast?” And we’d let him in.

Enter… the winter … and G was having sleepovers again. His absence was the harbinger of the resumption of their dysfunctional behavior. I remember disTINCTly the time I saw with my own bespectaled eyes, their readmittance of MY CAT into their home. It was a standard February day here in Northern Virginia: 45˚ and sunny. G padded around the house, rubbed his furry gray head into my shin and “rowled” hello. He followed me to the front door and mewed that he wanted to go out, so I let him. He sat on our brick stoop for a while (much like in the photo above) and then he got up, stretched in at least 15 different ways and began his daily constitutional, walking around outside, performing a census of the bayberry thorns with his back in the neighbor’s yard and slinking beneath their junipers stopping from time to time to daintily sniff something.

I was just watching him do his kitty thing in the bright sunshine. The morning sun’s reflection on the glass storm door across the asphalt caught my eye as my female neighbor OPENED THAT DOOR, LOOKED FROM SIDE TO SIDE LIKE SHE WAS IN A 1930’s GANSTGER FLICK AND “TSK TSK TSK’D” MY CAT INTO HER FUCKING HOUSE. Gandalf looked up from his sniffing and trotted through her doorway.

I lost my mind. I counted to 10 in kitty years. I took a few breaths. I did all the shit I tell my yoga students and all the freaked out little kids to do when they’re upset and none of it worked. It was like I was staring at a hall of mirrors of “FUCK MEOW YOU” written all over them.

I often refer to moments in my life with scenes from movies, to bring people into my state of mind. There’s a great scene in “Raising Arizona” when Holly Hunter’s character, Ed (who was a police officer), discovers Nick Cage (Hi) has reverted to armed robbery (“it ain’t armed robbery if the gun’s not loaded,” he would say earlier in his defense during his parole hearings) and has a panty on his head. Why? He was absconding with a bulk case of Huggies diapers for the baby he and Ed, now his wife, have just kidnapped because she was infertile. (This is a comedy, so stay with me.) Ed, in full police chase driving mode, drives to pick up Hi and as she sees him with the gun raised to the pimple-faced teenage store clerk, and she puts the car in park, gets out of the car, stands up, points at Hi and screams, “YOUSONOFABITCH!” at least twice. That’s how I felt. I felt kinship with her character, Ed, because she had been deceived. Instead of shouting what she did, I pointed and shouted, “YOUFUCKINGBITCH!” at least twice as I watched that harlot let my cat in her house without a damned care in the world and how small it made me feel.

If you’ve never seen Raising Arizona, you need to; here’s a great summary which still doesn’t do the film justice: https://youtu.be/wQYY7TSnPXQ

I realize this is not about the cat. This is not about Gandalf being “disloyal” and all the other human attachments we assign to animals. I read National Geographic. I’ve known for YEARS that cats are whores. Especially the indoor-outdoor type. I wasn’t concerned about G’s well-being because he was a badass. He OWNED this ‘hood. It wasn’t about his weight or his health or the fact that every time he’d been away for several days we’d know where he was because he smelled like their we’re-no-longer-smokers but our-house-smells-like-cheap-candles-to-cover-up-the-stench house. Whenever G came home from an overnight he smelled like the cheap cologne from a brothel washroom (or what I’d imagine that space would smell like). Every time, we would sniff him and say, “He’s been tricking.”

Because I know this isn’t about the cat but rather human weakness, fear and cowardice, I’ve basically tried to let it go. I’ve looked the other way. I’ve gone Jesus about it and turned the other cheek. I have zoomed out: these are sad people with nothing really going on. I’m not being coarse when I say they barely leave their house. The husband is a workaholic and has had two heart attacks. He’s on a pacemaker now. The wife is probably enduring some form of insulin resistance or compromised health or depression and their marriage is likely a silent one. If G hanging out with them brings pleasure to their lives and their sad existence, then he’s doing the work of angels and nuns. I’m good with it. What I’m NOT good with, no shock here if you’ve read anything I’ve written, is THE LYING and the GAME PLAYING, the silence.

It continued for years. I would play Jesus. I would let it go. I would notice my beautiful gray barn cat getting fatter and fatter. To keep the peace on this tiny cul de sac, I would keep my piece.

“He doesn’t come home and when he is here he doesn’t eat. He barely talks to me. He hisses at the dogs. He smells like Old Spice or Brut. His body is changing… I think he’s having an affair!” Same with cats. Save for the lipstick on the collar.

Four years later, this May, shit hit the fan. I am guessing literally, over at the House of Stolen Cat. Gandalf hasn’t been lodging with us for at least a year. He comes in to eat and nap then leaves before long. Apparently family living isn’t for him, plus our kibble likely sucks in comparison to what was in the Fancy Feast tins I’ve seen in their trash. No, I didn’t go snooping although now I wish I had.

My husband and I are watching a murder show around 10pm. This is what we do when we are exhausted and bored and want to compare our lives to the sadness on exploitative television.

His phone lights up with a text from the man who will now be known as “Mr. Cat Thief.”

MCT: We think the cat is sick. It has been coughing a lot tonight.

Dan [after much laughter from us before replying and chatting about ‘the cat‘]: What cat?

MCT:  Gandalf.

Dan: Well, you would know better than I. You have allowed him to live with you for at least a year. We take him to XYZ vet.

Pause…

MCT: We would like to take him to the vet. We would pay of course. But he has a chip. They might balk at us for bringing him in without your consent.

Pause… we are laughing. We can’t believe this is happening. I’m all “‘but he has a chip…’ — that’s because HE’S NOT YOURS, YOU EFFERS!”

Finally, Gandalf is giving them what they deserve: the hassle, the vet bills, the companionship, the attachment, the heartache — the true surreptitious ownership (despite EVERYTHING they said they didn’t want) of MY GRAY BARN CAT — because we haven’t had him overnight in our house for more than a year and he’s become obese and flatulent at their hand and their cowardice. Dan and I debate this conversation. We are bitter. Well, I am bitter. I’m half bitter, actually: I’m THRILLED that they’re having to reach out to us about OUR cat that THEY stole from us and I’m pissed that they are effing cowards and assholes.

Dan? Dan’s dancing a jig, finally free of the cat who literally was a giant nagging eating and shitting machine — an asshole to us. Finally relieved of tending to his shitbox. I can see in Dan’s head, the cartoonish “for sale” sign attached to Gandalf’s kitty house. We talk some more. A little at odds over how to handle this. I want to say, “FUCK YOU! YOU STOLE OUR CAT!” when we both know that won’t solve anything. “That’s not why they’re texting, sweetie,” Dan reminds me. This is how we work.

Dan: Go ahead and take him [forever] to the vet. We will authorize the transfer and ownership of Gandalf to you.

MCT: Ok.

Here’s the actual thread with crappy editing:


Dan is freaking on fire. He’s laughing so hard and he’s so happy. He can’t believe his luck.


I’m laughing with Dan sincerely while at the same time I’m also enraged that no one — not even my beloved — has called them out explicitly for stealing our cat from us after our requests to not let him in, to not develop habits with him, to remember he doesn’t live with them despite his insistence that he thinks he does. Curiosity does not equal dominion.

Do I miss Gandalf? Yeah, a little and a lot sometimes. He’s a beauty and he used to live here. I resent the hell out of this situation because I chose to be nice, that I chose to be all Jesus and turn-the-other-cheekish about this. I really do.

And then it comes back to me, my lessons from all those years on the couch: It’s hard to be soft.

So they took him to the vet. The next weekday morning, I answered the call on our house line and it was the receptionist at XYZ vet telling me that MrsCT was presenting Gandalf. Asking if I was ok with their bringing him in for attention and observation? I was pissed. They actually went through with it… probably thinking as well that they were better cat owners than we. That if we really loved him… I don’t know. But I allowed the transfer of the chip and ownership to them. Now they are confronted with their outcome. We all are. It could be easily said that if I really wanted my cat that I would MARCH THE HELL OVER TO THEIR HOUSE AND DEMAND!!!! THEY RELEASE HIM AND NEVER DO IT AGAIN!!!

But that’s really silly. I am not a fanatic. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to live like this.

I’m also not a hypocrite. As depicted in the photo in the beginning, taken this morning, Gandalf clearly still comes “home” to us, but we don’t let him in. We don’t want to further confuse him and frankly, we don’t own him anymore. We’ve handed over all rights to M/MCT. He rubs against my leg, but he doesn’t come in. He sits on our stoop, infuriating Charlie and is sociable to Beezer who hisses at him whenever she gets the chance. (This is not new behavior for her, she’s one of those kitties who absolutely has to let herself be known so she can operate freely in her zone.)

The thing is though, that we would’ve absolutely had a real conversation about them adopting Gandy if they wanted to. We spoke privately about it. We saw what was happening — they would feed him, he’d get fatter and we’d have to deal with their indulgence but they openly said they didn’t want a pet; they just wanted our cat but not own him-own him.

It sucked. The only way to have dealt with it was to deal with it. For several months before this went down, Dan and I would talk to each other about how something had to change; that they had to stop doing what they were doing or that we were going to have to upgrade their status. But Gandalf took care of it all on his own.

So how did the following weekend’s Memorial Day Pipestem Cookout go, you ask? It went fine. MrsCT was sociable and acted as though nothing had happened. She seems willing to speak about unpleasant things when they have to do with her husband who takes her nowhere. Ever. I cooley smiled and then ignored her and drank my Bud Light Limes under the shade of my crepe myrtle with my bestie. MrCT was as cold as my beer. He likely knew that I was seething under my red white and blue frock, and I didn’t care. To me, Maya Angelou (God rest her), was loud and clear: “When someone shows you who they are the first time, believe them.” That first time was when in their weakness and heartache they stole Gandalf six years ago. I knew it would happen again. I choose to be real. I won’t speak to them at all anymore unless they start the conversation and of course like Dutiful Recovering Catholics, we won’t talk about it, even though I know it would be best. I honestly don’t think they can handle the conversation.

So what’s the moral lesson here? What’s the platitude if I can’t think of anything substantial…? I think it’s that we all screw up, but that it’s not OK to say “I just screwed up.” That we have to go deeper, we have to do more. We can’t just roll over people and expect them to be ok. We have to do the right thing. We have to own our screw ups and own the pain we cause others. We have to admit our weaknesses for other peoples’ things (if you’re the M/MCTs) and come to terms with how our choices shape the lives of the people around us. Not to mention the shape of their cat.

Thank you.

Laundry Can Wait … What’s Taking Up Space In Your Life?

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I just returned from seven days at the shore. Outer Banks, North Carolina, to be exact and it has been a while since I’ve taken a trip with just my tribe. Last summer’s trip to my hometown of Buffalo, NY, and summer childhood playground of Bay Beach, Lake Erie, Canada was a bit of a shitstorm (the weather was great, truly, but another atmospheric energy vacuum disturbance was at play) and the fact that this is the first time I’m mentioning it should tell you how taboo the content is. Nonetheless, despite my body’s awareness of the angle of the sun and the lift of the heat and inner knowing that I’m not usually below the Mason-Dixon Line this time of year, I packed up my stuff with my team here and we went south to the OBX. 

Okracoke Island, looking north.

From Okracoke looking west.

Okracoke Island, N.C. Superior in all ways. Looking South.

We got a 4×4 vehicle beach pass. I HIGHLY recommend it; this is our approach to “Shelly Beach” near Hatteras light house.

My view from our rental hovel. Full moon rising.

The drive in, once you clear Nags Head. Totally natural.


It was glorious. It was some of the most primitive and expansive beaches I’ve ever seen. It rivaled the Pacific Coast in its big sky, boundlessness. I never felt so small and yet so alive at the same time. They say that there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand ALL OVER our Earth. I’m good with that now. It used to intimidate me because I would think, “Why bother?” But now, the obligation to be a person of purpose — no matter what that is: trash picker, photographer, pasta cooker, laundry folder… is too great. The odds that we are here because God, the fates, the universe deemed it, are too fine. We must live well. It’s our duty. Just do it with love.  

The weather was sublime, the people were kind and patient and everyone was on vacation — even seemingly so the people who were working. The owner at Uncle Eddy’s mini golf and custard, a Texan at heart, was all North Carolina sunshine and fleecy clouds. His young co-worker, a bespectacled ginger with an odd personality who took it upon herself to tell me about the houses she had just cleaned the day before, “One has six bathrooms, two of those with a bidet, and eight bedrooms. It’s real nice, it’s got granite counters and stainless steel kitchen and a hot tub and a pool. Hardwoods in the foyay and marble floors in the kitchen (ouch, sounds like it should be the other way around and in Manhattan). Each bathtub is a jacuzzi (back when those were in vogue I guess) and the carpet is real nice. Chandeliers and giant windows… I don’t do windows…” Of course not. 

As we were in our hovel, compared to the place she mentioned, I marveled at the austerity of the place and how important that austerity is to truly let the mind and the spirit relax and retune. There were maybe no cookbooks anywhere and maybe a handful of family portraits. The “artwork” (mostly cheap prints from shops on NC-12, the main road in and out of OBX) depicting dolphins (thus denoted with the caption “D O L P H I N S” beneath) and wind-tamed dunes on the walls had all succumbed to the UV rays that blast through the glass facing the shore and had taken on that cream-pink-blue tone, where the image starts to fade / bleed into the empty space, a sure sign of the deterioration of the paper upon which they were printed. What was funny to me in retrospect is the placement of some of the images: they were also on scant mountable surface area of the very walls that faced the sea. Call me a jerk, but if the choice is between watching the rolling tide of the Atlantic, witnessing real  d o l p h i n s  actually do that thing they do when they swim, and watch the occasional flock of pelicans fly amidst the wind drift just above the water, versus glancing at artwork (shit or Renoir), I’ll choose the sea. So about that austerity thing: discern. If you’re going to decorate scantily, just do it well. 

The house had a washer and dryer. I told my children and myself: don’t bring more than you really need: 3 of everything, nothing fancy. I ignored my own instruction and overpacked (not terribly). However I wore everything I packed. And I did. Except one t-shirt and one pair of shorts. I did bring three swimsuits. I wore two. Of the two I wore, I wore only one once. I own this. So I lied. I didn’t wear everything I packed. I know you might think this is not a big deal, but for some reason, it bugs the crap out of me. Ethics. Do what you say. Say what you do. The inner “disturbance in the force” of my own mind because I know I have too much shit in my life to begin with.  And to top it off, I bought things while I was there. Two t-shirts and a pair of sunglasses. And a hat. And a Turkish towel; the real kind, not the fluffy kind. My husband bought me a hammerhead shark plushie, much to my squealing delight.

We packed enough sunscreen though and that was super important because my middle son, Thing 2, decided he didn’t need sunscreen — he wanted to correct his farmer’s tan, so without my knowledge he went all day on Sunday without SPF. That was an unwise choice, and he paid for that for days, but he was pretty good-humored about it. My youngest son, Thing 3, simply didn’t put any on — there wasn’t a plan. He rather fancies his alabaster, blue-hued skin tone and because he is the third of our three children, we simply forgot about him. Not true, but essentially it’s become somewhat of a pattern here. We used to call him “the merry wanderer” (because he’d just take off) until he burst into tears because he thought we were calling him a girl, “Mary Wanderer.” When I explained the distinction, that  “merry” meant “happy” like how we say “Merry Christmas” which only made things worse and began a whole new trip down the idiomatic rabbit hole and I gave up. So we only call him “the merry wanderer” behind his back now. As a joke now, whenever I’m unsure of where he is before we leave anywhere, I pretend I’m Katherine O’Hara in “Home Alone” and freak / shout, “KEVIN!” like she did from her first-class seat to Paris while Kevin (McCauley Caulkin) was back home in Lake Forest going through his brother’s stuff and eating ice cream pizzas for breakfast. Anyway, true to form, he had no sunscreen on for about 2 hours and that did him in for a couple days. On our penultimate day, weary of his excuses to not be outside, I bought him a board shirt for $35 and he wore it for 90 minutes until he complained so much about where we were (the sound side of the island, now referred to affectionately as “Shit Hole Bay” for many reasons, primarily amongst them that the water is probably 90˚ and foamy). My eldest, bolstered by his own experience with sunburn and his equally fair-skinned girlfriend’s presence on the trek, was pretty good about his skincare and only got burned where his skin rubbed against the boogie board and where his shoulders would’ve taken a beating from the waves. So, pretty much everywhere.

Yes, we invited our son’s girfriend. Yes, that sounds like a big step. They are their own pod; I make no inferences. She cheerfully and naively consented to subject herself to our randomness for two 6-hour-long car rides. Her parents were also going to be away for the same period we were and I didn’t want her to be alone. She’s a really great girl: super bright, energetic, optimistic, real, game, human, female (so important for me — surrounded by nothing by males in canid or human form), patient and so kind to our youngest — like the type of kindness you read about — and she had her own room directly across from ours. She was an asset and we loved having her there.  

We also forgot things: butter, salt. The boys didn’t pack their own shampoo. I’m really glad they didn’t remove the toothbrush, tooth paste and dental floss kits from the car when they last visited the dentist, as they came in handy. 

We also brought a bunch of stuff we know to NEVER bring again. There’s a reason this area is the birthplace of modern aviation: the wind. So that means for us, people who really just want lie on the beach and maybe paddleboard to not bother there because the winds are so constant and so beautiful that you will get pushed so far away from where you started that a sail really is not just a cool-looking accessory. We also realized that it’s folly to bring any of the following beach games: 

  • Ladder toss game
  • Frisbee
  • Track ball
  • Kadima
  • Spike ball or slam ball
  • Badminton 
  • Beach ball 
  • Feathers

Things to bring next time: 

  • Kites
  • Flying suits
  • Capes
  • Anti-gravity gear
  • Jet packs
  • Vitamix (I missed my blender)

Despite their natural spartan appearance, the beaches at night were abundant with ghost crabs. I used to like them. I recall walking along other Atlantic coastlines and seeing maybe half a dozen in an hour’s time. Not here. It was like the invasion of the laterally locomotive diaphanous exoskeletal amphibious arachnids. In less than 30 minutes I avoided stepping on or freaked out from seeing about 30 of them of all varying densities and intensities. Most of them did their crab thing: run sideways from the beams of my uranium-powered flashlight saying “fuck off, landlubber!” But it was a bit much after a while. I actually started to get anxious about it and I knew then that that was not why I was on vacation. So I begged my husband of limited night vision to take me back to our home, which he did, and I plopped on the teal courduroy sofa and watched a documentary about heroin addiction. I kid you not.  

Over the days, I watched my assembly of tchotchkes grow and while I didn’t put on a hair shirt, so to speak, I remember the a plan in my head to unload my life and my psyche of things which no longer bring me pleasure and to rid myself of the things which hold me down. Things that are attached to people who’ve hurt me or who represent unresolvable times in my life. Things I bought while with those people feeling the pressure to buy them because the person selected it for me even though I didn’t really have the guts to say “no, that’s not me. That’s actually you thinking you know me,” or even worse: my buying the item because I wanted to curry the favor of the person I was with because that person liked it more than I did. It’s all very meta. So I am pleased that I bought delightful, made well and intentional things from small local shops. Am I rationalizing? Of course I like to think I’m not.     

The abundance of these shoreline mega shops, “Sunsations” and “Wings” and “Wings Super Store” and “Kitty Hawk Kites” (how many kites does one need?)  along NC-12, was disconcerting to me. It made me think of how much shit we all have and that’s because we believe the commercials, the narratives that say, “you need this” and “you’re worth it.” Some things I did need that I recently bought: the linen clothes from J.Jill (uh, vanity size much? Yes) because I am tired of burning up in the heat while trying to protect my skin (I just had my 4th basal cell carcinoma removed from my body two weeks ago) and an AMAZING SPF 50+ sun/swim shirt from prAna which I believed saved my skin while at the beach. My surgical dermatologist, a funny man, said “I’ll see you again. And be skin smart but don’t freak out: if you lived in a cave from here on out, you’d be coming back for more surgeries. This is all delayed from many years before…”  

Great. 

The austerity of the beach (house) was refreshing. It didn’t really occur to me how sparse the place was until I arrived home and opened my own door. “But this is where we LIVE,” my husband reminded me. “I like it here.” And I get that, and I love it too. But… we have too much stuff  and he agrees. We don’t need the behind-the-bike tag along trolley for toddlers anymore… unless we turn into our neighbors and have our grandchildren live with us while our child goes to medical school. True story. We also have neighbors who’ve stolen our cat. No joke.  

The conflict for me is committing the time to unload the stuff from our lives. It’s not even an issue of finding meaning in the unloading, because I know it would not be time wasted, it’s that I want to be living. So I need to reframe that. I think it’s the only way to do it. If we punt things from our lives just because they are there, it doesn’t help the process; we are just doing the opposite in reverse: we are mindlessly ridding after mindlessly acquiring. I don’t want to do that anymore. I inevitably forget I’ve done it and spend time looking for the thing I unloaded… It’s crazy making.

Sure we can make deals with ourselves here on out to live intentionally and intelligently, but that solves only half the problem. And I have: I’ve made a pact with myself that I’m only buying things that add value to my life now. It’s not that I’m going to deprive myself of things, but I want to include things: moments, people, items, music, sensations that have MEANING. I believe this is a part of not only a higher consciousness, but also of getting older (I’ll be 50 in a couple months) and also an awareness of the smarter economy: sharing, recycling and repurposing.  

Just before we left for the trip my husband and I visited the municipal dump to unload an old TV (which had basically died — we kill things here, we don’t just replace them because we don’t like them anymore), our dead wooden deck table and other wood-based things. I was both exhilarated and dumbfounded that we live here in a country where people can responsibly bring their unwanted / defunct things to be … dealt with. I’m not sure what happens to those old washing machines and door frames when they are deposited at the dump, but I do feel like we are doing something right. I don’t know. 

So it’s not just that the beach house that was not filled with too much too much, it’s that the beaches were so not-crowded by both people and crap. It was lovely to look at things and not feel overwhelmed by them. Seth Godin once wrote in a blog post: “While enough is often enough, too much becomes nothing.” I don’t want to have so much that I don’t know what I have anymore, that it becomes nothing. 

I am noticing as I write this that I have a new (latent?) “issue”: stuff and its accumulation. I believe it’s because of my mother. I’m not blaming her, but I can tell you I’d be clearer about this issue — meaning my sense of guilt over it —  if she hadn’t spent her life surrounding herself, and thus my father who is getting on, with an accumulation of so much unused stuff shit that it’s both unusable and untenable at the moment. I know I’m going to have to deal with it and I also don’t want to do this to my own kids. It’s shitty to leave your shit on your children’s hands because you don’t possess the self-control to manage it. My parents have left a significant issue unresolved and I realize right now that I’m feeling its specter, looming, because I fear I will have to deal with it and I fervently reject it.   

So the unfolded laundry had to wait today. I decided to write about my trip because I wanted to share what’s on my mind. This post has been cathartic: it has enabled me to pinpoint and unload a heavy burden of unnecessary guilt while coming to an awareness about a pretty major situation that needs to be attended to which does NOT belong on my shoulders. I want to thank you for helping me get there. I know now that I am only responsible for and responsible to the things I do.

What’s taking up space in your head? What’s a burden that you’re carrying that you don’t even know you are? What’s going on…? We can’t carry other people’s shit for them because we have our own we need to excrete. 

“Moving toward an inwardly simple life is not about deprivation or denying ourselves the things we want. It’s about getting rid of the things that no longer contribute to the fullness of our lives. It’s about creating balance between our inner and outer lives.” – Elaine St. James

Thank you. 

Non-Attachment: An Update

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I have friends who know the intention I set for 2017: to practice non-attachment as “best” (ha!) I can.

They ask me from time to time, now that it’s May and we are more than 1/3 into the year, how it’s going.

I tell them, “it is what it is,” and laugh. Because that’s all there is and yet, there is so much more.

My beloved older brother and I were together in February on a 75˚ sunny day that made us feel like we were in Florida in February — when the angle of the sun is so distinctly “winter” that you know the experience is novel — when we weren’t. We were running an errand and I drove with the top down. I was thrilled to have him all to myself for that special hour. He’s a busy man, husband and father and we were all together as a family again to celebrate our “Second Christmas” because we are all in different places on actual Christmas.

We started talking about life in a way we hadn’t in years. It was just us. We got around to “new year’s resolutions” and I spoke of my new year intention. He is a really smart guy and he’s read a lot of amazing books and philosophers so he’s willing to go down the rabbit hole with me at times and I love those talks. I summarized up saying that “non-attachment” feels like a trap because I end up wondering if I’m “doing” it right. “Like, how do I know if I’m doing it the right way? If I try to stay in my own zone and let go of shit my kids or other people do, isn’t that like not caring about my own standards and personal space and boundaries? Do I stop caring about my family and dogs and just let them figure it out on their own? What if my not caring about something means that someone could get hurt or be negatively affected? Say, if I see a toddler walk into the street, of course I’d stop my car… when is non-attachment not good? Do I just keep driving and say, ‘well, he had it coming…’…”

I continued as rainclouds gathered above us on our way home and I wondered about whether I should close the top but decided to keep it open… it’s just rain… I can always pull over…

“Am I good at non-attachment??” We laughed.

Then I said, “Ah, fuck it.” We laughed louder and the rain began to gently fall around us amidst a sunny sky, and we were moving fast enough to stay dry.

The truth is that it’s hard. It’s hard to be soft when the world wants you to be broken instead. It’s hard to be aware when the world seeks to numb you. It’s hard to be open when you would rather clam up and turtle yourself in.

I have the true gift and blessing to host a “restorative / yin” yoga practice. This class centers and restores me in a way NO physical practice can. I have to be centered, or near-centered in order to give it fully. Sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve been caught up in traffic or arriving on the heels of a disagreement with someone.

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

My therapist once mused about 10 years ago when I spoke of the crushing feelings I had about my mother and my father; about my childhood in spite of being a mother myself. A family event was on the horizon and I was a bit raw from the Work he and I had been doing in my head and heart. I didn’t want to attend but he said “fake it ’til you make it…”

I so dislike that phrase. I can’t fake it until I make it, because what if I never “make it”? And then, of course, what if I’m already there? What if the “what if?” is really “so what?” Because I dislike that phrase, teaching restorative classes means I can’t share what I don’t have, so I have to “rally” to let go. I realize it’s as much for me as it is for them.

I begin by inviting everyone to sit and to “soak” in their space. I propose a slow breath in. I suggest a flowing, peaceful breath out. I suggest an awareness of the heart rate and a connection with the energy in the room… after the first two minutes, I’m centered. I’m present. I’ve made it.

In those restorative classes, I talk about the poses and their effects on our bodies’ systems: circulatory, immunity, digestive, pulmonary, lymphatic and more… I read poetry, quotes and essays by Rumi, Chodron, Emerson, St. Francis of Assisi, Thoreau, Mother Theresa, Buddha, Lammott, Brach, Jesus… sometimes the stories are ancient and sometimes they are contemporary. Sometimes the readings are fresh to the class and sometimes they are repeats.

My sense of “non-attachment” means to me that it doesn’t matter if the quotes are the same, because every time I read them, it’s a new day for the listener and for me. It’s how our day shapes up which leads us to how we hear what is being read. For some people it might be the first time they’ve heard it and for others it could be the sixth. The point is, that life throws us experiences that shape HOW we hear those readings.

I remember going to Mass and being irritated by having to hear the story of Lazarus or Jesus Calming the waters, or of his curing a blind man by spitting in the mud that he rubbed in the man’s eyes, or of the woman at the well, or … or … or … until I realized: oh… this isn’t about repetition… it’s about lessons. For me, now in retrospect, it was about choosing to be irritated or choosing to NOT be irritated and listening.

Why am I harping on repetition? . . .Wait for it. . .

After a recent restorative practice, I was told that a new student loved it, but that the readings were the same as the week before. I got the impression that it felt stale to this person. It didn’t affect the same way as the first time.

NON-ATTACHMENT BREAKDOWN. BITCHY DEFENSIVE YOGA TEACHER BREAK-IN.

What is ironic is that I was also told by another student that what I read in that very same class was EXACTLY what was needed. People tell you things in these spaces. They feel safe in their vulnerability. A marriage was dissolving. Sobriety was new. Children were raw and wary from years of hurt and neglect. A rebirth was taking place right in that studio; right on that mat; right before us all in a private, silent, and beautiful way. This student found the readings both soothing and buffeting and it was all very needed.

As an adult child of alcoholics, I could identify with the children this practitioner had injured. I rested my hands on my heart and bowed to this yogi who is boldly stepping into the light, no matter if one reading is exactly the same as the week before. No matter if one pose is repeated.

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The whole point of a yin practice is to “get down” with who you are. To get close to the discomfort of being in your own skin and letting the feelings well up and breathe them out so we can let them go. The whole point or a restorative is to let stuff ride through you and try to practice non-attachment, to truly BE “it is what it is.”

So the conflict: Do I change what I do to please the one person who itched that night when I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing and people tell me this class is like their church? That they wait all day for it? That they count the minutes until class? That it’s a form of body prayer for them? That it’s their sanctuary from the world? That it lets them go soft when the world insists they stay hard? I’ve been teaching this type of class this way for three years and I’ve never heard a “it was great, but…” and maybe because that’s people are too nice? Mmmmmmmnnnnope. Not around here…

“It’s not me it’s them.” Isn’t that a fun line? The truth is, it’s all of us. The insight for me, however, is that I’m keenly aware of my own shit and that any reaction I have to anything is mine, including this person’s reaction to what I did. Carl Jung said basically that when we don’t like something or someone, to pay attention to it because it gives us insight into ourselves. I used to really dislike that concept because it was right. It means “work”; it means we look in the mirror and parse out what we are and grow up and stop being little babies.

Are we judgy? Are we reactive? Are we irritated –in a restorative yoga class?! REALLY?!– breathe, molly . . .  by a repetitive reading SO MUCH that we are going to talk about it, or are we going to do some digging and wonder why we are so irritated…? So attached? What are the expectations of this person? Levitation?

NnnNgnnn. Breathing. . .     

So ok.

I love feedback and I am all for mixing things up, and frankly, some of the readings have felt repetitive for me. That said, I feel strongly that I must be guided to read what I read; that if I “preselect” what I’m going to read, that it’s not authentic, it’s “planned” and when is life ever really that way? As a yoga instructor, there are times when you think you have the best idea ever and then you get to your place of practice and you “read the room,” and your initial idea vaporizes. The moods of the people or the events of the day or the week DO NOT mesh with what you had in mind at all. That happens more than I’d like. In that way, I have to be responsive.

I remember a power vinyasa class I was preparing to teach. I had a whole line up all set. And as the people streamed in, the mood was SO unlike what I’d prepared to experience. I had to think on my feet; I had to find a way to ease into the place I wanted to bring us because while the tone of the room might’ve been heavy, the truth is that people come to that class to revive and to work, so I had to steer the ship.

But I’m attached. I don’t like what I heard about that restorative class and the readings. Do I say “fuck it” and do what I’ve done? Not if you know who I am I won’t. I will roll up my sleeves, do some digging about my reaction and serve the class to the best of my abilities. I could decide to blend both my worlds: write my own essays for the class that I teach, and maybe that has traction. I could write essays based on a reading and that would blend it all together. It’s a consideration. It’s got legs, actually.

And so RIGHT NOW, as I previewed this post, I find myself bowing in gratitude to this person who spoke up. I find myself utterly awake: I can change this, I can write up thoughts. I can share myself in a way that will never be experienced again. Why buy or read other writers’ works when I’m a writer myself…? Why not share me? Weave me into the readings?

Holy cow.

My prescription for non-attachment: lean in to what chafes you. Roll in it. Get its stink all over you. Decide if it’s worth learning from or letting go. There is no right or wrong answer, and my experience has been that if I can’t let it go it’s because I’m supposed to grow from it.

Thank you.

10 Things You Never Knew You Wanted (But Now You Absolutely Need)

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10 Things You Never Knew You Wanted (But Now You Absolutely Need)

I love this blog and you should too. MLP hits it out of the park and into the stratosphere where most of these models’ outfits are from. Enjoy and laugh again.

I Miss You When I Blink

Are you good at resisting advertising? I try not to be a sucker, but time and again, the glossy ads in fashion magazines draw me in with their magical promises. I don’t think I have any interest in the high-couture lifestyle they’re offering . . . until suddenly I do.

Take a look. Don’t you want it all, too?

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If you’d asked me yesterday, “What’s on your wish list?” I wouldn’t have said sparkly red gravity-defying sneaker-huaraches, because I’d never seen any. But now I have — and now I feel stupid for walking around vertically like some basic fool all this time.

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At first, I thought, “Matching blue lace top and leggings with reverse shin zippers? Hard pass.” But then I looked at Jennifer Connelly’s face and posture and thought, CHANGE OF OPINION, MADAME CHAIRPERSON. She is not kidding around. I’m positive that if I wore…

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