another little piece o’ my heart

I got a chance to read some of the dirtygirl story in public last night at the inaugural of the new reading series, Sex Worker Literati. It was packed. People were sitting on the floor. A dozen or so had showed up for me personally (I sent out two hundred invitations. I’m going to pretend that that’s a pretty good percentage). Some friends I’d expected didn’t make it. On the other hand, old high school acquaintances who’ve become new friends through the actual “social” part of social networking engines like Facebook, did, with progeny in tow.

It was all a little intimidating.

I can talk in front of strangers about nothing for hours. I can talk in front of a bunch of alcoholics about myself forever. But my writing, I want to say “my art” but that feels so very pretentious, exposing that to strangers or to friends, that’s a horse of a different color entirely. Every time, every single time I let you read my work is like handing over my newborn baby and hoping you don’t decide to put a pillow over her face. Reading my work to you is a little harder than that, more like taking a circular saw to my own chest, wrenching open my rib cage and letting you poke around in my heart for a while. Really poke.

I labor over every single word, each piece of punctuation hopefully creates a rhythm you can dance to. I write about the personal, in ways that take me to the vulnerable. Every time, every single time you read what I write, it means I’ve unlocked my heart just a little, left a door ajar, a trail of breadcrumbs down through the maze of locked doors and secret passageways.

I stood in a crowded bar last night and told you part of my story, a part that doesn’t make me look particuarly good, or sound like a nice person at all. I let you see a piece of my heart from a time it wasn’t safe to have a heart at all.

I never felt more beautiful.

There is something to be said for following your bliss.

 

help me, I’m moulting….


July is my month. I celebrate both a birthday & an anniversary of what I hope will always be the day of my last drink, my last drug.

This year, the birthday was number 53 and the anniversary was number 19. Considerably more than anyone who knew me when I was drinking could imagine and I had no interest in stopping. How that happened is another story entirely. Remind me to tell you sometime. It’s a good story.

The end of this particular July also marked one month since my magazine job went the way of so many other magazines. Down, and Out.

The job search continues, with compassion as the watchword and animals, livestock, farm, dogs and cats as the key words, explaining in my cover letter how I got to be so incredibly overqualified for the position (many of which only require a GED) while being so simultaneously uniquely suited for each one. Nothing so far, but no worries either. When I only had one weekday free, my search for a life of compassion manifested as one day a week at the Green Chimneys Farm  & Wildlife Sanctuary, part of Green Chimneys Children’s Services. It’s been two months of Fridays and it feels like my forever home, as they say in shelter circles. You’ve all seen the pictures and heard the babble. There will be more babbling to come. Maybe even in this post…

I’ve crossed off a short list of possibilities, still carving out my angel. I’m learning what I can live with & what I can’t. Physically, financially and emotionally. There’ve been a few surprises.

Physically I’m making more room, packing away on high closet shelves thirty years of tax returns, medical records, anything I don’t access daily is being packed away. Books, videos, clothes, anything I don’t use, really use, is being given away. I’m acting as if I’m moving to a much smaller place and it’s creating more space around me.

I’m carving out room to breath, room for angel wings.

Emotionally, I’m terrified of intimacy. Have I mentioned that? My friend Lyle died at the end of July, six years ago. We’d gotten really close when his cancer returned, when he and I were both ill. We could talk to each other, hear each other when no one else could. I’m still not over it, whenever anyone mentions his name unexpectedly, I’m reduced to tears. I hate crying.

On my birthday I met with a woman who runs a program for Thanadoulas, to discuss the upcoming two month training she runs. The point there is simply to be there, as comfort, companionship, an ear for someone who is within 18 months of their death. I think I can do that.

Those two things seem antithetical, the Thanadoula program and my fear of intimacy, but they’re both part of me. I’m sure my therapist would say something about my keeping myself so busy I don’t have time for romance or intimacy and there’s something to that. But I’m keeping myself busy with intimacy and tenderness in the forms I can handle. I know what to expect from someone who is dying. They’re going to die. I can handle that. It’s predictable. I know too, that it’s going to be a lot more complicated than that, in ways I can’t imagine.

Faith for me is taking actions knowing I can’t control what the result will look like.

I spent part of my farm afternoon this past Friday with a young girl, H. I think she’s mildly autistic, she’s probably somewhere around 10 years old. She’d bugged me the first few times she showed up pushing her way into my day. I go there to spend time with the animals, not the kids. She shows up every Friday asking the same questions over and over again. This past Friday I lost my patience, threw up my mental hands, dove in and just talked to her as if she was anyone else who was driving me crazy.

Something clicked for us both.

We worked together for about 30 minutes. We shoveled goat poop into wheelbarrows, I pushed them full of poop and H. pushed the empties on the way back. We swept up and spread sawdust. We were a team.  My heart was opened, unexpectedly. We connected when I stopped trying to be anything but exactly who I am, when I stopped trying to see H. as anything but exactly who she was. I’m kinda sarcastic and she’s kinda annoying. Together, we’re pretty funny, we cracked each other up.

When I was drinking, funny was loud and at someone else’s expense; excitement had sirens, sharp edges and was lightening fast.

Before I stopped drinking, I thought I was better than everyone because I showed up for work on time every day. Sometimes that meant roaring down the street, doing the last lines of cocaine in the back of a police car, after being out all night with them. Rinsing my mouth out with beer in the elevator on the way up to my office, almost always the first one in, simply because I had never actually gone home.

Nineteen years later, I don’t have a job, most nights I’m in bed by 10pm, most mornings I’m up by 6am. Next week I’m trailing the farm veterinarian on her rounds & taking a training in crisis intervention so I can work directly with the kids.  I don’t know what that’s going to look like either and that, that is really exciting.

 

everything i know about the beach house

I started coming down here 15 years ago to be with my bff. It’s a lovely town where nothing happens, Mayberry RFD. With sand.

(Location to remain semi-secret because it’s already way too popular. When we first started coming it was the anti-thesis of hip. Sometimes you’d find that you’d rented next to a house full of pajama men. Those unwanted men, forgotten by their families, dumped by the state into boarding houses along the shore, they’d wander town or camp on benches or front porches, in thier pajamas and slippers, smoking cigarettes, shuffling, smelling vaguely of urine. One step away from paper slippers. We should have seen it coming. That description sounds suspiciously like the East Village and Williamsburg just before they slid into hipster-ness.)

I came this weekend with the intention of…

a) spending quality time with my peeps – totally forgetting it’s Father’s Day weekend and everyone scatters to spend time with fathers, past, present and in-lawish. Well, it would have been the same had I stayed in the city, but here I got to sleep in to the sound of rain pattering on the front lawn, stay in my pajamas all day watching the entire season of Real Housewives of New Jersey with my peeps (and “prostitution whore” becomes shorthand for ‘Jersey trash’, much like the phrase, “with a minimum of makeup” is shorthand for ‘she looks a little bit like an ape don’t you think?’) and be woken by having my god-dog crawl into bed with me and dance all over me until I slid over and made enough room for him.

b) doing laundry. There is something comforting about the smells & sounds of the dryer going round when it’s in your own house. It doesn’t have the same charm and coziness in the basement of an apartment building with bright fluorescent lights and strangers wandering around. My god-dog sleeps next to me as I write, the dryer hums below me, the birds tweet from the telephone wires outside the window.

c) writing. To spend a considerable amount of time writing, editing, reading, generally being productive.  Outside of this post, none of that has happened. The other housemates are better, they do some of their art, their writing. I am best at doing nothing down here.

I am terrible at doing nothing Any. Place. Else. The beach house gives me permission, in a way that no other place or time does, to do nothing. To sleep in or watch crap on television.  To not get properly dressed for two days in a row or putter aimlessly. To get down on all fours and play with my god-dog and be absolutely one hundred percent silly. To not care what my hair looks like or think about makeup. To sleep on the beach when it’s sunny. To walk on the shoreline at night, and feel simultaneously significant and insignificant. To partake meals made from group efforts. To not have to be anyplace or anyone other than who and where I am at that moment, who I am when my guard is down. To laugh until I almost wet my pants.

When I’m here, I get to be the authentic jodi. The chattering stops, the world slows down, my heart opens, my silly comes spilling out and my laundry gets done.

thin skins & tender hearts

Therapy Guy is back from vacation. Now I have a safe place to cry instead of leaking all over town. He thinks I need to cry more, I think he needs to shut up.

‘Did you miss me’ he says?
I admit I did.
‘That’s progress’, he says, ‘you’d never have admitted that a year ago.’
‘Shut up’ I say. I really mean fuck you. He hates when I say fuck you, finds shut up disrespectful. How does he know me so long and not understand that shut up, fuck you, idiot, these are terms of endearment coming from me?  I’m still there, still engaging. It’s playful, affectionate even. My aunt used to call her three boys her “shitheads”. If he doesn’t want to hear shut up or fuck you he really should keep his fingers outta my brainpan.

Idjit.

I get the fuck you finger from the boy in the crosswalk when I’m driving. Fuck you from the man on the subway when I ask ‘Would you slide over a little?’ ‘Fuck you’, he says, ‘I built this country for people like you’, he says. Wait, what? You built it but you won’t move your ass over six inches so I can sit down? Fuck me? Fuck you, I think at him.

So many chips on so many shoulders, some of them mine, apparently.

My friend Lyle used to say we’re hard-hearted and thin-skinned, but what we needed were softer hearts and thicker skins. I was hard-hearted to survive, I’ve become too tenderhearted for such a thin skin. I need to hide behind that thicker hide.

I also need less concrete around me and less garbage. There are too many people here. Too many angry people. Too many tailgaters, Fuck youers, two-seat-on-the-subway-taking angry people.

I used to fantasize about shaving my head and moving to a remote village on the cliffs in Italy. A small house with no electricity, I’d take the long walk to town daily for fresh fruits & vegetables. I don’t speak Italian. No one can say anything to me, nothing to hurt me, nothing tender to frighten me (because it does, tender scares the beejesus out of me). This was the safe place I went in my head when it got too noisy inside or out. Sweet Italian silence, the ocean & fresh fruit.

Reality check. I live in Queens, in a neighborhood that is almost exclusively South American. I don’t speak South American. I go to market daily to buy fresh fruits & vegetables. And there is no one here I can talk to. No one can say anything to me that I would understand. I’m living my fantasy but instead of being comforting, it’s lonely. Instead of feeling safe, I feel isolated and angry.

I need that thicker skin, a safe place to cry, but mostly, I need a new fantasy.

old goats & open hearts

Green Chimney’s is a place for learning & healing for kids and animals. That’s why I’m here. Because I need the healing too – my inner kid and my inner wounded animal.

It’s raining again this week. I clean the pens, taking wheelbarrows full of goat poo and wet straw to the dumpster. Returning with fresh sawdust for clean bedding. The physical labor is very cathartic, very zen.

At noon everyone heads for the dining hall and the barn is quiet. No one here but us chickens.

The baby goats come nibble my fingers.  It tickles in a really pleasant way, they have no upper teeth (reminding me of an old boyfriend or two, back in the days when teeth, or lack thereof, was not a deal breaker for me).

I sit quietly on a milk crate in the center of the sheep pen and think at the sheeps. I think about Brian, who died this week, and Lyle, who died six years ago. With my heart instead of my head, I think how nice the quiet is, how good everything smells in the rain. I soak in the smell of the earth, the sweetgrass, hay and the smell of the sheeps around me.

Brooke, the lamb, nuzzles my arm and I bury my fingertips in her cotton-soft wool.  The Jacobs sheep (still looking very much like a goat to me) limps over. I don’t know much about sheeps, really. About where they’re supposed to bend, what a healthy hoof looks like, none of the particulars I know about dogs and cats. I’m here to learn. But I know a limp is not a good thing & I try to bring a little relief with some Ttouchs on him. When I stop, he nudges me with his head & waits. I start again & he stays, his head resting in my hand. In silence, we understand the language of the heart.

Another Jacobs sheep is limping too, a senior named Hazel. I take this old lady by her beautiful curved black horns while Maureen soaks, cleans, trims, medicates and wraps her hoof. Hazel lays her head on my knees and lets Maureen work.  It takes about ten minutes and I realize half way through that I’m doing the Asian squat, a position I really can’t manage anymore – I was so wrapped up in helping Hazel, I forgot what I couldn’t do and just did it.

Tommy, another senior with milky cataract eyes is almost completely blind, . He wanders over to us, to Maureen, Hazel and I. He pushes the interns out of the way and wedges his head under my arm until his big blind sheep head is just below my chin. He is wedged in tightly between me and Hazel. He stops pushing the minute he gets his head in there. I rest my chin on his old head. He doesn’t smell sweet like the baby goats. He smells like an old goat, or more accurately, old sheep.

Maureen finishes up. Hazel’s hoof has been treated and wrapped. I let go of her horns. The sheeps don’t move.

I throw my hands up in the air, “Run free little sheeps. Go frolic. Go.” Hazel & Tommy do not move, they remain standing with their heads resting on my lap.  Maureen says she’s never seen any of them do anything like that. I cannot imagine how I could be any happier than I am at that very moment with a lap full of old sheeps. My heart is wide open. I’m here, in my skin.

For most people I don’t think that’s a very big deal, being awake, present, in your own body. For me, this is huge.

That’s how Green Chimney’s works.  It’s about helping each other heal. It’s the language of the heart.