Yesterday I watched as the moon fully covered the sun, revealing its beautiful corona, revealing darkness where daylight should have been, revealing people from all walks celebrating nature and our amazing universe.
Yesterday also marked one year since ___ broke off our engagement.
Before the eclipse, I spent the day thinking about what ___ did, and how he did it (over email) and how it affected my past year: devastation, depression, a crushing fear that it might be better to wall off my heart and be done with it.
But as I drove around in the beautiful, green countryside of South Carolina I thought about that and I thought about the eclipse, and why I’d traveled hours south to be in the path of totality. It reaffirmed something about me that I’d forgotten over the past six years: I only allow experiences that add to who I am to have a lasting effect. The ones that threaten to take away are left behind as dim memories. Because of that, I actively search for experiences that will impact me in the most positive ways. And because of that ___ and his reasons for breaking our engagement are no longer important to me.
I’m called an optimist and idealist by friends all the time. It’s not that I disagree. I generally do think the best of people and life and I believe that my ideals are worth pursuing. These only describe me because while they may describe how I think, they don’t describe what I do. It’s important to make this distinction because knowledge of the self and motivations are vital to living by intention.
I consciously put myself in the path of totality, and that’s where I intend to live until my last day. I like the phrase “path of totality.” Astrologically it is the track of the moon’s umbral shadow over Earth’s surface. For me, psychically, (emotionally, personally, whatever term you like) it means the life path I choose in order to be the entire human being I am meant to be. And among other things, what I am mostly is a woman who lives with her heart wide open.
I sometimes wonder what attracts people to me. I’m not beautiful, I don’t have a sexy body, I’m not the kindest, most generous, or most loyal person I know. I’m not the smartest, either. Sure, I have enough of all of that to get by, but not enough to make me stand out. What makes me stand out is my heart. My heart is wide open for everyone to see and, here’s the hard part, for anyone to take what they need. Best case scenario for me is to live with others who follow the “give a penny, take a penny” rule. Worst case is to live among takers. I usually have lots of “pennies” saved up, but eventually they run out and there I am, expected to keep giving when there’s obviously nothing left in the penny cup.
What does all this have to do with the solar eclipse? The event itself? Well, as I sat watching the moon cover the sun, I had this eerie feeling that something mystical was happening. I understand the astronomy of a total eclipse. I know that it is fully explained by science. I’m not anti-science at all. But if a big part of “I am” is that I allow positive experiences to affect me deeply, then by traveling to South Carolina to watch the eclipse, I was creating an experience that could be deeply meaningful. And when you experience events that, in the grand scheme of your life, have a deep impact, you feel it through the whole core of your being.
My heart raced as the light dimmed. I’d snap a picture, look up through my eclipse glasses, stare in amazement at the light and shadows all around, then do it all over again. All the while I felt intense emotions welling up inside me. Gratitude and joy and wonder. I felt brave for no reason, then the sun was suddenly fully covered and I understood the feeling.
When the sun is totally eclipsed, you can stare at it, unprotected. What you see is a white glow around a big black circle: the corona. It’s beautiful in a way that anything rare is beautiful, only there I am, a puny little human being in the face of a giant fire ball, and I’m staring it down.
Even more relevant is the idea that the light of the sun is so powerful that even when fully covered by darkness it still shines bright around the edges. And that’s me, the bright light around the edges. I love so hard and so strong that even when I’m totally obliterated by people and life I will still shine. And that shine is a promise that with trust and patience my light, like the sun’s, will shine full and powerful as ever in only a little while.
And that, my friends, is why I traveled to watch the total eclipse.
Americans make a big deal about independence. Of course we do, our founding document has the word right there in its title. But American feminists, even more so. Independence is this thing that we all seem to look on as the ultimate in personhood. But I question the wisdom of this idea of independence at all cost.
The day my mom had a stroke I learned what it’s like to be enfolded in the supportive embrace of one small part of the Black American community. Two of mom’s dearest, closest, best friends – Dee and Brenda – are of African descent. They both flew (metaphorically speaking) to the hospital as soon as they heard my mom was there. We three mostly just sat around and kept the patient company – the stroke left little damage other than a bit of trouble with word recall – and tried to convince her that an overnight stay was not a bad idea. That my mom is a stubborn lady goes without saying.
When visiting hours ended, Brenda and Dee suggested we go for dinner. That’s when the magic happened. These ladies are incredibly openhearted and we sat for a delicious and long dinner talking about my mom’s strength, my fears, all of our fears, all of our strengths, loving each other, helping each other… Not to mention the stories that were told around that table. I depended on those two ladies to make the situation okay, in my heart-space and in my brain-space, that night.
Black American women have an interesting relationship with dependence vs. independence, I think,* because poverty, or living on the bare edge of it, makes you dependent on help from friends and strangers sometimes just to put food in your mouth. That’s a mean place to be, given the wrong mindset. Black women, the one’s I’ve been fortunate enough to know, make helping each other such an essential, natural part of community and friendship, though, that it’s impossible to tease it apart from the rest. You may as well tell a woman to stop breathing. That I was privy to such natural help changed the day my mom had a stroke from incredibly scary to manageable.
Mothers and daughters have this indescribable something between them. When faced with the first real demonstration that one day that relationship will change forever, it’s a heavy thing to accept. I’m lucky I didn’t have to do it alone. I had these two very special ladies to help me.
That’s the first time I questioned my need for independence.
Here’s the thing: I looked it up and Merriam Webster told me that dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. Here I’d been operating under the misconception that the very reliance associated with dependence goes hand in hand with control. Not so?
Since that time a few years ago, I’ve become financially dependent on my fiance. The thoughts of controlled by him pop up in my psyche every now and then, but I’m always able to talk myself down off that ledge. We have a partnership, he and I. [Insert cheeky remark about me being the brains and him the brawn] Honestly, though, we naturally separate when it comes to our priorities in the relationship: His biggest concerns are taking care of us physically, financially, while mine are taking care of us emotionally, mentally. Only one of those concerns requires money, and the job that brings it.
I have an ulterior motive, too, though. Because of Steve, I am able to stay at home, keep the dogs company, run household errands, and write. I have this unrelenting desire to write for a living. The issue with that is the for a living part takes a while to get going. It’s a slow process…
…But I am making progress. Maybe one day my earnings as a writer will exceed Steve’s earnings. It’s not probably in today’s readers market, but it’s not altogether impossible. Either way, our relationship works, just as it exists. Plus, we’ve weathered a couple of life-altering storms over the past five years. We adapt.
But what, again, about that dependence thing? I’m going to say it right here, right now. I am BOLDLY dependent on my man. Forever it’s been anti-feminist to be dependent on a man, right? That’s the only reason I have to add the boldly part. If I’m going to go against the grain, I damn well better be bold about it, right? Yes. That’s right.
To end this post, I’d like to dedicate it to those wonderful ladies: Dee Sewell and Brenda Whitehurst. Thank you both for bringing me through that night. Even more, thank you for showing me that bold has many faces. I am forever in your debt.
*I am a white woman, so I can only describe how I see the Black American community from the outside in. Please excuse whatever misinterpretations that might come from that fact. Feel free, though, to correct me in the comments if my ignorance is crude or leads to blatantly wrong assumptions. I only know what I know from my personal experiences.
Once I was in a delicious little town in Louisiana call LaFayette. The place was delicious because I adore green places; especially those with hanging mosses. The food was delicious because… Let’s just say if you’ve never eaten foods doused in creole sauce you’ve never really eaten. The people were also delicious in that they were kind and generous and oh, so laid back. Plus their accent made me wish I’d been born a Cajun lady instead of the Northeasterner that I am.
The best part about traveling is getting to know the cumulative quirks of the local culture and appreciating them for what they are: those little things that makes a place its own self. At that time I was traveling around the country teaching doctors to use an application called Dragon Medical to dictate medical notes into their patients’ health records. LaFayette is still the only place I ever trained where every single physician insisted on dictating the name of a sausage into their notes: Boudin.
Boudin is a cajun sausage which I’ve never seen outside of Louisiana. It’s so common down there I have no doubt there’s a McBoudin sandwich on every McDonald’s menu in the state. The name is pronounced Boo-DAN (the n being all but silent). Ha! The things I remember from my days as a trainer…
Anyway, one afternoon I went to a local sandwich shop to eat my lunch and learned they don’t have provolone cheese there. WHAT? I ordered swiss on my sandwich instead, then was shocked again when asked Do you want that all the way?
This was rather early on in my traveling trainer career, so I was a little embarrassed to admit I had no idea what the lady behind the counter meant. Right before she noticed the confused look on my face, I blurted out I don’t know what that means.
Where I come from, when we ask if someone wants a sandwich with all the fixings we say Do you want everything on that? In Louisiana it’s called All the way. I don’t like a bunch of stuff slipping and sliding out of my sandwiches, so I politely asked for just lettuce and mayo and hoped she hadn’t noticed me blushing.
The point of my story, which I may have hidden a little too well, is that while I don’t want my sandwich All The Way, that’s exactly how I intend to live my life. I try to make that my first thought every morning when I wake up. Why bother, otherwise?
It’s not like I don’t forget myself sometimes. Some days I wake up feeling blue, or lazy, or tired from too many hormones and not enough sleep, and I just can’t manage it. But most of the time? I intend to fill every single minute of every single day loving hard, imagining harder, thinking, writing, reading; breathing in every ounce of the life I deserve. I only get this one chance at it (maybe), so I don’t want to waste it.
Ding-ding-ding-ding!! Since you read all the way to the bottom, I think you deserve an extra special treat. I met Lady Tambourine on my most recent trip to Louisiana. She definitely knows a little bit about living All The WAY. What do you think?
Today is the day we set aside to celebrate mothers. Let me tell you, we certainly are a group that deserves celebration. We form and grow the bodies our children inhabit for a lifetime. Which is just the beginning of it. True? Mothers are the driving force behind how we create who we become as human beings, citizens, heartful people into the rest of our lives. Mothers are not all powerful, but we’re as close to it as anyone can get.
To say that I am grateful to my mom says nothing of what she means to me. Without her, I am not. It’s a biological fact, sure, but it is also an emotional and mental fact, too. She rocked me until my tears stopped falling as a tiny baby, then again as a scrawny little girl, a self-conscious teen, and even now as a full-grown adult person. Then there’s the fact that I am stubbornly me because of my mom. Good, bad, or otherwise I wouldn’t have me any other way. I may not like myself every moment of every day, but I will never apologize for who I am; that would hint at a flaw of my mother’s. She’s never flawed, in my eyes, because my mom is as perfect a mother as I will ever need.
But this is the part where things get complicated. I love my mother dearly, but if she were the only role model I’d ever had as a woman, I wouldn’t be near to who I am. My other mother (some might call her a step) has taught me ways to be that I’d never learn from the woman I call Mom. The way I like to think of it is, if my mother forms the fabric of me, my other mother is the glittery thread shot through it. She adds a special dimension that I’d be a lesser person without.
What’s especially special this Mother’s Day is that my daughter will soon become a mother, too. <3 So along with celebrating my mothers, and my Rachel for making me one, I will soon get to celebrate her as a mother in her own right.
If I have one piece of advice for you, Rachel, it’s this: Don’t try to be “THE perfect mother.” Don’t worry about all those silly, little things parenting books and mother’s groups and friends, family, and even strangers tell you will cause irreparable harm. Most of the time it’s just a load of crap. Love that baby as hard as you can. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, is as important as that.
I figured, since I am a writer now, maybe I should write you a love story. You certainly deserve to have a story written about you, my Steve, after all that you’ve given me. But here’s the thing… because there’s always a thing, isn’t there? I don’t know how to write a love story that’s half as interesting as ours. Nor do I have it in me to write a character who is quite as much of a character as you. You’re a one of a kind. Our love is that way, too.
On the other hand, if I could write my character to be one that you’d deserve in this great fictional love story, she’d be a little bit like me, but a lot not. That idea is rather nice, come to think of it, to be able to fix a few of my non-fictional flaws. So, here goes:
Fictional me would tell you more often how much she appreciates you cleaning up the kitchen in the early mornings when she’s still sleeping. Like me, she doesn’t care to clean the kitchen. She also would never complain if the dishes weren’t quite as clean as she’d like them. Fictional me yells a lot less than real me does.
Fictional me would also try more often to wake up earlier and enjoy that first cup of coffee with you. Early mornings are special to you and fictional me would be better about getting out of bed just early enough so that she wouldn’t be annoying. Fictional me would be a better fake morning person than I am.
Fictional Becky would be less critical, more encouraging, and laugh more often at your jokes. She would also be able to eat like a horse and still be thin and sexy 24/7/365. She would be more daring on hikes, more daring in the passenger seat, and even in the sack. Oh, and my fictional me would be less argumentative, less opinionated, and less complicated in the emotional department because dammit sometimes it’s just not necessary.
Alas, I am non-fictional Becky. I can’t be my perfect, or your perfect, or anybody’s perfect version of who I should be. I can just BE and hope that today’s me is good enough and maybe tomorrow’s will be a little better. But here’s the other thing… because they work in pairs, ya know! I will spend today and every day loving you as good and as hard and as best as I can. You are my very real Steve and our love is very, very real. And we both deserve nothing less than our very best try.
I love you, Steve. Happy Valentines Day!
You might think that starting guitar lessons at age 50 is a little frivolous. Like, maybe I sound like someone who has way too much time on her hands. But you would be wrong.
I haven’t played a musical instrument since I was seven years-old. My instrument of choice was a violin back then. I wasn’t very good at it and I have no recollection as to why, at age seven, I chose to play the violin. It seems like an odd choice, but there it is. I suppose I’ve always been a little weird.
I can’t say that I missed playing an instrument all those years, but now that I have a new one in my hands every day? I’m loving the experience. And as I always do, I’m (re)learning a few life lessons that are good to remember.
Let me start out by saying, I met the man who’s teaching me to play guitar at a club here in Las Vegas called the E-String Bar and Grille. He plays there every Thursday night. The crowd is usually pretty thin, but any crowd would be after playing, like he did, to stadium crowds all over the world with B. B. King.
My teacher is Charlie (Tuna) Dennis, and he’s been playing guitar for almost 60 years. His pinkie finger knows more about playing blues guitar than some blues guitar players will learn in a lifetime. Let me tell you what, he’s got the callouses to prove it. Long story short, I’m pretty thrilled about learning from a master.
But back to those life lessons. It’s pretty interesting, how that part is happening, because it’s totally by accident. Whether Charlie spouts out an amazing one liner, or something occurs to me while I’m practicing every morning, the lessons come. I thought you might like to know them, too:
Lesson #1: The simple things in life are most difficult.
I started off my first lesson with thirty minutes of strumming the low E string. Just strumming it with my thumb. Trying to hit it consistently hard and in time with the tapping of Charlie’s shoe. It seems like a simple thing to do, but that’s the thing. Simple is usually the hardest way to do something; anything. That’s probably why we tend to complicate everything – to hide the flaws. And if you don’t believe that simple is hardest? Go get a piece of paper and a pencil out of the drawer, then try to draw a perfectly round circle. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….. (tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-). See? It’s really hard, right?
Lesson learned? Even though simple is hardest, it’s definitely worth the effort. There’s nothing more elegant and satisfying on a deep and soulful level.
Lesson #2: It’s all about the timing.
Timing in guitar playing isn’t just about striking the string with one hand. You also have to mash it down (Charlie’s term) with the other. If you mash the string down too early, you get this dull thud of a sound instead of the beautiful vibration you’re wanting out of the string. That sound feels embarrassing, or it does to me, anyway. Take your time, Charlie says, over and over. And I try hard not to rush, but that’s harder than it sounds, too. You got to get that timing right.
My fiance? I’ve known him since we were in junior high school together. We’re 50 now and finally our timing is right. It’s funny, though, when we talk about how things used to be, in the decades we spent apart. It’s downright jarring how different our lives were. And I always come back to the same thought – If we had been together years ago, we never would have made it as a couple. Our relationship would have ended in a big, dull thud. And just for the record, I’m incredibly glad that didn’t happen.
Lesson #3: Perfect comes later.
Or, at least, as perfect as you’re ever gonna get. Charlie sat listening to me strum out the notes to a very simple tune, meant to strengthen and coordinate my fingers properly, for a whole hour that first lesson. He never once got frustrated with me. Though, when he played alongside me, I heard just how clumsy I was. He kept saying Right or Perfect any time I would hit a single, nice-sounding note. Why is that? Because perfect never comes right away. Practicing over and over, that’s how you get to perfect.
This is a lesson I feel like we’re forgetting here in the 21st Century. We expect our politicians, our parents, our children, school students, doctors, engineers – we expect all of us to be perfect every single day, all the time. But we’ll never be that. We can only keep trying to reach closer and closer towards it. Baby steps, or giant leaps, or single guitar strokes at a time, one after the other, practiced every day.
Who wants to be perfect the first time anyway? I mean, sure, that would be much less frustrating, but eww. How boring! Imperfection is where innovation comes from. It’s where real meaning and beauty lies. Mistakes are the place where we can all come together and say, YES, I’ve been there. I feel your pain. And we could all do with a little compassion every now and again, now couldn’t we?
Lesson #4: There should always be more than one way to get where you’re going.
Charlie’s great for one-liners. During our first lesson, we were talking about how some musicians only know how to play by ear. You know the ones; they never learned how to read sheet music. Sure enough they’re talented – B.B. King played by ear, and so did Eddie Van Halen, right? But Charlie’s point was, if you can only play by ear, you only have one way to play. A song is like driving from Point A to Point B. If you can’t read a sheet of music, you only have one road to travel on. But if you can read music, well, you can go all different ways! Charlie says, Music is a roadmap. If you know how to read the map, then there are almost an infinite number of ways to get from one place to another, right?
The catch is, you gotta do your homework. You got to put in your time. You need to make a commitment. To learn. To do.
And to think! I learned all that in just my first week as a guitar player.
What’s coming next for me with these lessons? Who knows, except for sure some callouses on my fingertips, hours with Charlie Dennis and his patient encouragement, and hopefully one of these days I will strum that low E string and it’ll sound pretty good. To end this thing, though, this mini literary jaunt, I have just one more thing to add: Whatever it is that’s coming next, I’m ready for it!
All of my life experiences put together could surely have converged to break me, heart and soul. But I am a strong woman, and I am fortunate for it.
If I were a religious person, I might believe the words “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” I’ve never read the bible, though, and I only have a vague idea of who Paul was. For that and some other reasons, God quotes are not my thing. Buddha is more my speed:
He is able who thinks he is able.
I am strong, not because God thinks so. I am strong because I think so. I feel that so much more deeply. I am responsible for who and what I am. And I choose strong.
I absolutely have my weak moments. I’ve stumbled and fallen. I doubt myself all the time, but ultimately I know that I will face any challenge I come to and find a way to come away from it whole. Plus, hopefully, I’ll come out stronger and wiser in the mix.
It’s interesting, I think, that this time in history, we are made to believe that strength should be a constant. As though, no matter what we face we must prevail. From the moment a life trial begins, it’s already on the way to its end because we are/must be just that strong. It’s a dangerous construct, that one is.
I cannot be strong 100 percent of the time. I am not a robot. I am a living, malleable, emotional human being. With that comes the fact that I will have moments of strength equally with moments of weakness. The part that matters is who I become in the end.
I may be weak today or tomorrow, or for all of next month, but ultimately I must become stronger. Why is that? Because I choose it. And I have the power to make it so.
I know everybody’s getting ready for BBQ and fireworks on this 4th of July, but before you go and start celebrating too heartily, please take a moment to think.
My wish for this Independence Day is that today will start an era when we all can/will freely voice the ideas we believe in. But hold on just a sec… This is different from what is happening all over the country right now. It’s become popular, because it’s so easy to do, to bash the opposition. It feels like an opinion when we say, NOPE you’re wrong, but it’s really not. The problem is, pointing out what you don’t believe is mindless. It depends on someone else spending their thoughts and effort and time to form an opinion. It takes heart to be FOR something. It takes nothing to be against it.
Here’s what we’ve been missing, if I might be so bold (and let’s be real, we all know I am…) Maybe we don’t agree with someone else’s ideas or beliefs, but we can at least respect each other for the effort they put into being thoughtful citizens. We can understand that others feel just as strongly about their beliefs as we do our own. We can relate as people who all just want a safe place to live and good food to share with the people we love, right?
So take some time today to not only celebrate our independence from tyranny, but also to celebrate your own independence from forced ideologies. Celebrate independent thought. That there is about as patriotic as you can get!