rules.

There are rules we live by, gathered in storms of uncertainty, handed down in dusty books of last names and grievances, rules of order and always to avoid suffering, chaos. The rules are unspoken but obvious, each of us bound to the codes of conduct we have signed, both for ourselves and others around us. We must all follow the rules to protect ourselves. We must make sure the others know them too, these rules falter when unkept.

The trouble is the rules to protect me won’t work to protect you, but I won’t know that, believing they are universal, true, right, the strict adherence keeping us safe. Bound by the threat of what has happened, might happen, could happen, the rules become louder, bigger, pronounced often and sure.

The trouble has been the most important rules are hidden, only seen in the breaking of them. The hundred jokes turn unfunny on the next one, too far, too sensitive, the unknown boundary sensed too late. The question in the string of questions too personal, too much, a word out of a million words too offensive, unliked, I don’t say it so you can’t say it. The edge of the rule is felt, not known, shifting in an instant.

The trouble will be that the rules will change as we do, and no one will know until they are broken. The communication in the overstep, the tension, the looks away, the silence or the furied steps past the now closed door. This newest rule becomes the most important one; know when it changed.

For every person you love and live near, there are rules, so many to catalogue and sort. Each uncared for word, question, joke a tension to remember, the rules of each one becoming the hundred rules of you. Each misremembering a break in the line of connection, a bump of not rightness, the jarring reminder to not forget the many detailed lives of other people’s edges. It is hard to relax around unrelaxed rules, hard not to regret the unintended missteps.

Looking back I can map the times I was disappointed, anxious and hurt by the rules that were broken by someone who both didn’t know them, and had no obligation to keep them. But yet, I expected them to be kept, needed them to be kept, flailed and hid from the weight of others failure to play the game I was living, burdening us both. I couldn’t have named the rules then, but I can now; see me, protect me, save me. These rules could never be followed by someone else because I could not follow them myself, I would not allow it.

And so, my new rule, for this new year, is to follow my own rules completely, and allow everyone else to write theirs. But here is the shift, I cannot follow anyone else’s, they do not belong to me, they are not mine. There are too many, so many unspoken, a few dangerous and the cliff too high to fall when unfollowed.

I have spent so many days afraid of not playing the game well, of not sensing the new do’s and not avoiding the new don’ts. I have used up my sense of when I am getting too close to the fire that keeps the lions out of camp, I was never a lion, and I have apologized enough for that. I wasn’t ever going to be the one who fixed the game, to make it better, more fair, less painful; it took me a long time to know that and even longer to forgive myself.

For this new year, in this new age my rule is this; I will seek to understand the rules that run the game, but I won’t play by them. I will love openly, create freely, and jump off the cliff toward my own joy, no matter the feared warnings.

This rule is fair, open and might change; it is mine.

freedom.

When you leave something, anything, anyone, there isn’t a replacement for the space it left for the first while. Habits, movements, settlings are upended when the space that holds them dissipates. The beliefs I held for so many years were gone in a two week period of tightening questions and unbelievable intuition. I hadn’t looked up from the race in so long I didn’t understand why it was over, the finish line taken down before I crossed. No chance now for redemption, resolution, my endless repenting had nowhere to go.

Every leaving is an empty boat, you want others with you, talking them into sailing along to that thin blue horizon of being over it. You call, convince, cajole for company, agreement; shoulders and sharp knees bent on the bench scooping out water taken on by the endless circling of no one else paddling. It takes some time to understand that no one else can. This is a boat for one, in water made by what you wanted for yourself, before you changed your mind.

It is interesting to me now how many times I have left something, anything, anyone, and had to change all of our minds, all the minds of everyone I talked to, knew, called. It wasn’t enough that I wanted to do something different, it had to be that we did. That there was agreement, validation, forgiveness before I did what I wanted to do from the moment I felt that adventure swelling.

I noticed even compliments often came with conditions of plausibility, the hair, dress, boots I dared to love worn to, ‘I could never wear that’. How many times this had stopped me from moving out of the homogeny I trended toward as I lived in Utah longer. The idea that something could be worn, said, tried if a bet could be wagered on shared consensus. The risk became more that the group was not suffering, I was; the unworn, unsaid, untried became like a winter bird scared away in the feeding of it.

This is a boat for one. To sail from one shore to the next is a lonely repeated trying. It is one next thing after another, insecure in the futured fog of unknowing. How much easier it has been to do what someone else wanted. To sift through the words, looks and needing of them, to row behind the wake of it. Always unsettled, it is at least not yours, and in many ways it is safer. There is hope in trying, always another chance to get it right, to please, to complete for someone else, eyes up to sense if it worked.

It doesn’t ever work, and it took me so long to know that. The path is lonely, not because it is, but because I didn’t know it could be. Freedom is rowing alone. I never realized when you need to take others with you it takes so much to explain and convince that the course you were going to take changes, it shifts with your turned head, words lost in the wind of where your boat was always trying to go.

The adventure lives in following your own way, not explaining it.

leaving.

The moment I began the deliberate slide away from the Mormon faith that brought me out west is a memory, visceral and clear. The sun bleached doubts held on high shelves kept up by my denial of anything faintly resembling a question lived together, harmonious in their agreement to look away at the first hint of slipping. I lived apart from that storage of ‘I’m not sures’, eyes always scanning back and forth in a perfectly timed defense of the house of cards I built in my need to have an answer, any answer, all the answers.

But that day, that Sunday morning, the crash of it echoed as I listened to a letter read across the pulpit that up to then had offered kindness and family and togetherness, until this day when the other was identified and a plan shared. It was the time of Prop 8, gay marriage on the ballot in California, two states away. I was not remotely conflicted as I cheered any equal rights wins from my shaded high desert yard. But this day, the letter read, and as I remember it, asking members to share their resources of time and money to close this new door of opportunity for all people to choose to sign a commitment for the love they had found.

There was a pause in the momentum of my ever evolving seeking for grace, a shadow in the sunlit basement window wells of this new truth read out loud, to the nodding of heads and shared agreements. Something within me stood up, never to sit back down. The resounding NO inside me was the death knell of my faith, the beginning of the edging away, then running, my feet stamping in the snow of something I had inadvertently aligned with all those years. When it was spoken out loud I appreciated the honesty, it gave me the inescapable gift of knowing what I would not stand with. This far and no farther.

Leaving anything is not one step, it is a long trudge through blame, guilt and fearful longing for a time when you didn’t know what you did now. The wish for innocence and the wanting of closure, from a church that sent messengers to ask me why? What was wrong with me now, after all this time, who did I know that made me so sensitive? Let’s focus back on what’s really important, and even as I said please don’t ask me again to get my husband to church, the request, let’s get your husband to church.

I am grateful now I had the chance to sit across from a leader with self proclaimed power and say, I have never been enough, it’s always been about having us there, not me. And then the story he told, always the story of the sister who gave up hope and after all these years her husband went back to church, the focus placed so obviously on the tether I held to luring someone else back, who’s maleness had so much more value.

Truth always seems to be the way out of anything that charms you into blindness. His honesty was fresh and clean and the repeating refrain of all the same words over all these years hung in the air like lights across a roof line. I could have laughed with the obviousness of it. I will not save him, and you will not save me. But right now, in this moment, I am going to save myself. And that I did.

It did not come without grief. I mourned the loss of that faith like a wintered widow. I flailed and scrabbled as the shelf of all the things I questioned came down, littering my fasting frame. I hadn’t known freedom for so long, it felt frantic, unmoored and so very unsafe. I tossed in the sea I had become unbaptized in, no anchor strong enough to settle my unchurching.

I understand the story of Lazarus now more than I did before I lost the religion that mapped my days, how coming back from the dead must have felt, the first step taken on the other side of dying so unsteady, so real, so very your own.

I have lived enough of my own days now to look back with unbending compassion on the years I was stalwart and true to a building, a monument, a group of people I loved and still do. Those years of following taught me to lead myself out of the ever-repenting never-enough half-of-a-something that was deemed whole by someone else.

Years later a leaked document further explained that those who loved outside of the rules were apostates, denying their children their innocent choices. This led my name to be removed from the records, a carefully written email, with a swift respectful response, forever freeing my life after. It was a simple gesture, no anger or regret, the final freeing clang of the hand-bound secret of my own apostasy.

Sometimes I miss the sense of knowing, of believing, of having a plan out of this world of bewilderness, but I never regret the day I stood up for the ones who were seeking the very love I found when I took those first steps out of a love that could be earned and denied, into the love that was offered freely and joyously equal.

solstice.

Mid life has been an interesting turn of the needles, moments of stark honesty knit one and avoiding them, purl two. A darkening storm of truth in a coffee shop, eyes across a table saying ‘I’m okay’, hands reaching back over words thrown on a telephone line. This hat created to cover my eyes, until mid years when I rolled it back up, saw it for the warmth not the burrowing.

Middle age has been a turn on the wheel of dried clay wondering, inching toward the ways of the way I used to be when I was free of the fear of cracking. It has been a whirling warmed oven reach toward knowing that heat doesn’t mend but it does protect, being fired in the hottest kiln creating tolerance for lower temperatures.

These years have been recreating a life I dreamed of crafting before I began to buy what I wanted. The on sale clothing safer and surer than the wild glittering fabrics that could have been sewn into whatever I wanted, when I wanted it. When my daughter was young, my mother bought her a length of shiny cloth, and for years that became countless outfits, tents, barriers and blankets. It was endlessly entertaining, joyous and fluid in its uses, and throughout it all it remained open and possible.

There is a new possible at this age, a movement unprescribed and unexpected and so sweetly free. I can knit, mold and sew with this starlit cloth that has no edges except the ones I look for. I have always owned it, and no matter now how many times I looked away it sat at the end of my vision, shimmering in moon lit fields.

What I know now is creating doesn’t mean trying, it doesn’t include pushing into corners of belonging or weeding out weaknesses to showcase anything better. It is the soft fall into what we already love. It is the turning toward the darkening hurts and giving them light, air, honor; creating something lovely from what is ours to give, not from what we wished we had received.

Coming out of the blue hour into the ending of the longest night has a bewitching power, there in the shadows she has been waiting for me, that girl, this woman, this life, this moment, turning deliberately, brilliantly toward the longest possible day.

alone.

If I stood on my own, truly alone, would I be aware of the silent contracts I made to be someone for each someone in my circular life? If I were alone, really alone, what parts of me would stay and which would leave, dissolved in the altitude of not having to stay the same for someone, anyone else.

I am familiar with my agreements to belong, the shades of painted grey when my mind was washed in reds, oranges, blues. Colors that didn’t go together, so could not be shown together, it wasn’t the way, it didn’t match, they didn’t go.

I know when I let the very first red burst feather be brushed from my hair I could have said, no, no I meant that there. I know that when my hand reached to catch the blue beaded wish, and stopped, halfway, desperate, that the next time my hand felt heavier, less likely to reach for something too brilliant to hold.

I know that if I were alone, so very alone, I would remember this is why I allowed my selves to spin charcoal, reflected in the fire of all the others dancing wants. Because the dullness of it felt like the smallest price for the togethered warmth of it. The trouble was, the trouble is, I remained cold and forever apologizing.

I alone can be alone, need to be alone, should be alone. Connected, surrounded, loving and sure, I could braid my hair, feet dangling in the rivers of my own old wildness, dressing myself in the colors that don’t go together, don’t match, but blend perfectly for me.

Once, before I knew I couldn’t choose what moved me, I wore bright purple and green runners for school, then after taunts and questions I told my mum I needed something new, something white and quiet. She, even then, was not one to back down to anyones ‘they’; she was a teacher in a sister school and told her class the story about the lone girl trying to hide the colors she didn’t believe she deserved anymore. At a soccer game soon after, one of her students yelled across the field I was playing on, ‘I LIKE YOUR SHOES’, her bold and strident kindness a bell I can still hear. I wore the shoes all year and never again, until now.

The grays chosen for me, by me, reflected me, kept me medicated against the nature of my odd whimsical ways. They were not mine, never mine, and returning them back to who owned them was unnecessary, suddenly blown off by the winds of my standing tall just once against the stainless steel of them. Yelling across the field to anyone who will listen, leaning forward to cheer something on besides the game we are all playing.

When I am alone is the time I truly belong. All of us, collectively, on our own, together, not apologizing.

over and next

There are places in a body that tell hidden tales of sadness, the fallen fragments of bending to fit another, the pain lit conflicted parts with warring stories. There are places I hold the weight of light things that held longer and together are made heavy; tight with the worried bracing of another day.

This morning, waking to the familiar tension in my neck, the strands between heart and head fighting to win, to hold claim to my attention. This morning, for the first time I saw this as the brittle battle it was, the pushing of defying, justifying, closing, the pulling of silence, rest, love.

What if somewhere in the middle there was a quiet stream of undoing, a soft silent place where the frame of me did not need to communicate its old stories, where time was not a stop watch, and the light before the coming of the sun was a stretch not a starting line.

To release the tight binds of what part wins, it might be that today needs to be a new day, not a familiar day. That the light that begins again, begins me again. That the earth turns and so do I, into the next thing, the new thing, the kindness reaching up through my heart to my mind, telling an original tale. The tension that lives there needs history to feed itself, dramas to push it forward and memories to play on repeat.

When asked what wisdom he could share from his 99 years on earth, Norman Lear replied there are two words we don’t think enough about ‘over and next’. When something is over, let it be over. Could it be that the memories I curate create the pain humming strings from my heart to my head, the words of earlier days singing their strain?

Maybe tomorrow I will choose. I will win from the place I have felt the most loss. The mind holds memories that prove its rightness, to justify its loudness. The heart holds memories both lovely and painful and both cause it to grow sweeter, opening wider into destructive newness.

It seems clearer now there is a choice to be made between volume and evolving, between loud and light. Whether the pain you wake up with is in your neck, stomach, hips or head, what is above and below that ache that is fighting for time, for a voice, for a win? Is there a part that argues to stay the same and a part that wants to open into relief and higher air? What is next can be accessed by allowing what is over to be over. If the tension ran slack, what part would weep? Maybe tomorrow morning, I’ll stretch there.