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Tue, 03/12/2013 - 3:27PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

A few days ago, someone said to me, after noticing how pregnant I was: “Wow, you must really be hating life right now.” I was confused for a second, and then I realized they were referring to how uncomfortable I must look.

“No,” I said, “I’m loving it actually.” They seemed surprised and then shook their head. I could see what they were thinking as if it was written on their forehead: “if that was me, I’d be hating life.”

I get a lot of that these days. Comments, some kind, some incredibly rude. It’s made me really think about how we make assumptions about others based on their physical condition. And that we are all, at some point, guilty of this.

Years ago, on a hot summer day, Dad and I were driving to the beach. I was 16, maybe 15 – old enough to drive, yet young enough to know that Dad was (and always would be) the driver when it was just the two of us. It was an unspoken rule, that he was the driver and I was the passenger, and I didn’t argue it. I had been riding in the front seat with Dad for many, many years.

On this particularly drive, we stopped at Wendy’s. Again, I was old enough to disdain fast food, and still young enough to indulge with a semi-clear conscious.

“Two Frosties,” Dad said, and slapped a five on the counter.

We sat down, enjoying the air conditioning, slurping up our Frosties. My eyes settled on a woman in a wheelchair at the table next to us. She was eating alone and having trouble. Food was dropping onto the table and she didn’t seem to care. She just kept shoveling fries into her mouth.

I averted my eyes, and shifted my body slightly so I didn’t have to look at her. So I didn’t have to feel uncomfortable. Her skin was gray, and her eyes were sad. I was making judgments about her, in that moment. That she must be sad because looking at her made me feel sad. I felt pity, and I assumed that she must, therefore, be pitiful. Dad glanced at me, and then over at her.

He got up, went over and said: “I sure hope you’re behaving yourself today,” and smiled his big smile.

I was watching this out of the corner of my eye, still trying not to stare, as I had been taught to do in regards to people who were ‘different’ than us. I expected her to snap at him, to tell him to leave her alone. Instead, her face lit up. She chuckled. “Honey, I wrote the BOOK on misbehaving,” she said. Dad grinned at her.

“I could tell,” he replied, and patted her on the shoulder. “I bet this thing gets good mileage,” he said, gesturing to her wheelchair.

“Almost as good as my Harley,” she answered.

Dad returned to our table. Her demeanor had changed, and, a few minutes later after she had finished her meal, she rolled out, but not before she turned around and said: “I’m gonna go raise some hell!”

“Go raise it, sister! Speed limit is 70!” Dad said and gave her a double thumbs-up.

I felt a bit ashamed of myself, after she left. Of how I had judged her, assumed things about her and her life. In the brief interaction with my Dad, she was none of what I expected: she was funny, she was fiery. And, most importantly, she didn’t feel sorry for herself. One would argue she had more spunk than most.

This memory has stayed with me for many, many years. I thought about it when Dad got sick, when he was the ‘handicapped’ one. I think about it now, when I am ‘handicapped’ at 9 months pregnant. I think about it when I meet others who are ‘handicapped.’ What is it about physical ‘disabilities’ that make others so uncomfortable? That makes others look at us, and then past us?

I get looked at a lot these days. Looked at and then – just as quickly – people avert their eyes. They don’t want to stare at my huge belly. It pains them so they assume that it pains me. They don’t want to look at my waddle, my swollen hands. And who can blame them. It’s all I am right now, to them. A very very pregnant woman. I am nothing else, just like – at first glance, so many years ago – that woman in Wendy’s was just someone to feel sorry for in a wheelchair, and nothing else. Just like my Dad, riddled with cancer, was a terminally ill man, and nothing else. We aren’t anonymous anymore – we’re “that pregnant woman,” or “that woman in the wheelchair” or “that man with cancer.” We get titled, and thus others feel entitled to comment, to compare, to criticize. To judge.

It sure is easy to judge someone else. It sure is easy to feel sorry for them, to pity them, to make assumptions about them and their life. You know what’s harder? To look inside, at yourself. To look at why you feel uncomfortable, what is it about YOU that you would like to change, that you don’t want others to see. What’s your handicap?

Sometimes, I would challenge my Dad at Scrabble during the final months of his life. I assumed he wouldn’t want to play, or, if he did, that I would have to ‘play gently’ since he was ‘sick’. He still insisted on keeping score. He never wrote “Dad” and “Tess” as our team names, but would instead name us respectively “Chemo-Head” and “Cutie-head”, or “Water-Butt” (thanks to the diuretic effect of some of his meds) and “Miss Beautiful”. He was still funny. He was still Dad. And, he beat me every time. Every single time.

My Dad was still a bad-ass, just like that woman in the wheelchair was a bad-ass. (To this day I still believe she really did have a Harley parked in her garage.) And me?

Judge for yourself. But before you do that, do us all a favor, and judge yourself.


a heart-shaped box

Thu, 02/14/2013 - 4:40PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

Many Valentines ago – but not so many that I can’t remember – my Dad called me at work. I was living and working in New York City, I was almost but not quite 25, and he was almost but not quite at the end of his life.

“Elika,” Dad said into the phone, my nickname that is no longer in use. He had called on my work line. His voice wasn’t raspy yet – it was still rich and full of life even though he was quite sick. It was only after the lung surgery a few months later that his voice sounded as if it had been through a paper shredder.

“Hi Dad,” I said. “Happy Valentine’s!”

“Will you do me the honor of being my daughter?” He asked. As he had so many times before. And, as I had, so many times before, I smiled and consented.

“I got you something,” Dad said. “For Valentine’s Day. But I forgot to send it on time, so you should get it later this week.”

Dad wasn’t a big gift-giver, but he didn’t need to be. Christmas was an envelope on a tree with a check, Valentine’s was just getting to be his valentine, and a birthday was a mushy poem he had made up, just for you. It was, and always would be, enough.

I thanked him, and then asked: “how are you doing today?”

He paused, and said: “Today is a good day.”

It was always a good day. The bad days were good days. The days he was cut open, cut down, cut up by the cancer – they were good days. That was always his response to anyone who asked: “Today is a good day.”

A few days later, a small package showed up at my apartment. Inside was a heart-shaped tin filled with Altoids that said "The LOVE Tin" on it. He had stuck a post-it note on it with his signature smiley face. The Altoids were heart-shaped too. I still have this tin. It is in a drawer, and filled with hairpins, for the rare day that I put my hair up.

He took those days, those end days, those cancer-filled days, one at a time. Some were worse than others. I saw him often, but never enough, so I finally put in a leave of absence at my job and went home to be with him towards the end of his life.

The night before he died, I was home. He was wearing his pajama pants with geckos on them. His hair, once so thick and full like his voice, was thin and sparse.

“How are you doing,” I said, squeezing his hand that was cold, and pale. The bed of his nails were slightly blue. I knew and he knew.

“Today is a good day,” he rasped.

And it was because he was still there.

I had some bad days after he died, some very, very bad, dark days. I still have bad and dark days. I have days during this pregnancy, especially lately, that are uncomfortable, and full of fear. Of the unknown, of what’s to come. Sometimes I feel lonely in it – in my body, that is doing something I have no control over, that keeps me guessing with its new symptoms.

Fear is strong. I knew he was afraid, that he was powerless when it came to the cancer absolutely ravaging his body. But when we speak our fear, it becomes real. He never said - but could have: “Today is a shitty day. I’m afraid of dying, I’m afraid of the pain, I hurt, I’m hopeless, I’m helpless.”

But he never said it. “Today is a good day,” he’d say. Sometimes through gritted teeth, sometimes without a smile. But it was five simple words that he had the power to utter as long as he had a voice, and if he said it, it was true. Today is a good day, goddammit. Today is a f*cking good day.

I carried that Altoid’s tin in my purse for years, even after it had run out of mints. Sometimes I would open it, looking for a rogue mint, only to find white dust. I would close it back up, and put it away in my purse. I was looking for something, and it took me awhile to realize it wasn't an Altoid.

That tin wasn’t empty, not really, just like our bad days are only truly bad if we believe it. That tin was a reminder to me during those bleak days of those five little words that I no longer heard. That I realized I no longer believed. I was looking for them, I wanted them. I needed them. I needed Dad to spoon-feed them to me. 

A day – every day - is a heart-shaped box. It is empty. It is waiting to be filled. You decide what goes in it. My Dad chose to put “Today is a good day” in his heart-shaped box. He believed in the power of those words, and I believed in him. Even when I don't believe in those five words - because some days I don't - I always believe in him and what he stood for. And that is enough for me.

Today is a good day. And I hope it is for you too.


The final stretch

Thu, 01/24/2013 - 2:23PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

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The third trimester. The last stretch. With it brings the heavily compounded symptom of pregnancy brain. Which is, essentially, massive preoccupation with your occupant. You can’t see your feet, you can’t tie your shoes, and your internal organs are being crushed and displaced by a rapidly growing baby.</span>

It’s distracting.

You start to really think about your pain tolerance level. Is it as low as you fear? Or will you put on your game face and laugh in the face of pain? Will your partner be partnering with you during labor? Or will he be checking CNN and ESPN on his phone?

What does it say about you that you can’t decide on a name for your child? Or that you’ve outgrown half of your maternity clothes and have been asked multiple times if you’re carrying multiples? Do you really want to know what a mucus plug is?

You try to visualize what ‘measuring four weeks ahead’ looks like at the finish line and think you could possibly break a Guinness Book of World Records by the size of your child. You wonder if he will look like an alien. You hope he looks like you and your husband - but only the good parts.

You eat dessert every day. You walk when it’s not raining and get lapped by those twice your age.

You try not to get discouraged.

You wonder what you’ll look like on the other side of pregnancy. Your life, your thoughts, your job, your body, your marriage. You know it will change you but you don’t know how. You know you will be forever altered, that like your stomach your heart will expand to the point of bursting for this child.

You are scared, you are excited. You are heavy. You groan when you turn over at night and hope you don’t pee yourself when you sneeze. You try to take it as a compliment when people tell you you don’t have ‘fat face’. Yet.

You stand in the middle of the half-finished nursery and wonder about the future tenant. You hope he is all the good parts of you, of your husband, of your parents and of your ancestors. You hope he is healthy. You try to eat your vegetables.

You can rest things on your stomach now, like your husband’s beer for his amusement, or the remote control for your convenience. You try to read all those books you know you won’t have time for, soon, but you can’t focus.

Your husband tells you you’re beautiful, and you surprise yourself when you believe him. He talks to your stomach and you try not to listen in on their conversation. He rubs your feet when you ask.

You count the weeks left, and then the days. You hope he comes just a little early. You wonder if your belly button will pop out this week. This kind of grosses you out.

There are other body parts – other than your feet – that you can no longer see. This is troubling. You are proud of your belly, of your baby. You love him in a way that is new to you, because you can’t comprehend or calculate its depth.

You wonder if this is how your parents felt about you, and if so, you have a new deep respect for them. You wonder how your mother pushed you out without pain meds. You have a new respect for her.

You have a new respect for the whole process, and for yourself. You shake off the self-doubt. You shake off the comments. You shake off the advice that doesn’t fit. You shake off the crumbs that fall down your shirt almost daily, collecting in your now-ginormous bra.

Motherhood: it’s (almost) here.


writing down the ghosts

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 3:47PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

I was on Queen Anne Ave the other day; the wind was just so, the light was just right. The breeze was warm, as if off the water. Warm water.

Hawaii, my mind whispered. And I was there.

Hawaii is a character, not just a destination. It is the definition of my father; light, barefoot, magnetic. Unlike my father, it is still here, floating and rooted in the middle of the Pacific. I yearn for it much like I yearn for him. A valley on the Big Island cradles some of his ashes, and in June it will become the resting spot of my grandmother. I will take my baby with me, my little boy, and stand out in the green pasture with my family and place her ashes near her youngest son. And one day some of my ashes will be there. This thought is not a dark one, but a truth. A happy one, if you can see it that way. I can.

January will be six years since he’s been gone, and with each year that passes I feel the loss of another detail, another vivid memory. These memories haunt me like ghosts, friendly ghosts that make me sad in a happy way. Each year, fewer of them visit me, and I know that one day I will wake up and they will be gone. So I write them down. I write them in my blog, I write them in my journal. I write them to remember what was, and in doing so, be ok with what is.

Here is one: Oahu, Hawaii. It is night and I am on the top bunk. The lights are out and as my eyes adjust to the darkness I see the outline of a gecko, inches from my face. He is small and large at the same time; I am five and I hold my breath. There are windows in the bedroom that face the hallway, slats that open and shut. I wonder if he will climb out the window, into the house. I wonder if he will fall into bed with me. Neither of us move.

There is just the sound of crashing waves, distant. My sister breathing deeply on the bunk below me, the occasional rustle of her sheets. And then: footsteps coming down the hall. They are my father’s footsteps, heavy but not loud. “Daddy,” I whisper through the slats of the window as the top of his head passes underneath. He comes into the room.

I’m not sure if I am scared of this small creature. I will take my cue from Dad. I point out the gecko to him, and he gently cups it in his hands, and he opens the screen door leading out of our room onto the porch. He opens it with his foot and lets him go. With the door open, I can hear the ocean better, I can smell the scent of sea and rain and grass and sand. It is the balm of my childhood. Dad shuts the door. “They eat mosquitos, who eat you,” he tells me.

It is decided. “We like geckos,” I say. I can’t see his face but I know he is smiling. He doesn’t answer me, just pinches my earlobe, gently, as he does when it is time for me to sleep. I do so quickly and it is a night that is not so different – it is not so special – but years later I will think of it as I stand on a street corner in Seattle, and I will write it down. 


The walk

Wed, 11/28/2012 - 12:33PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

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I walk by the graveyard towards the library. I peek through the iron gates, and I see nothing, I see everything. Stories buried in the ground. I think of those stories, buried in the ground, and I walk to kick them up. I walk for the reward of a book: for bent pages, for the scent of ink, for a destination. There are old books and there are new books and there are bad books and there are good books; I walk towards them all. I walk to remember: I walk to forget. I walk to hear the narrator in my head, whispering: this is what you will say and how you will say it. I walk to indulge myself. I walk to sit with my indulgence, one page at a time. I walk alone. I walk with my characters. I walk among ghosts. I walk to see. I walk to get away. I walk to arrive. I walk uphill. I walk downhill. I walk to cross streets, to get to the other side, to take one step at a time. I walk to create a journey. I walk for the journey. I walk to sit among the silences of books. I walk without my purse. I walk to leave it behind.</span>

I walk to write stories in my head, to be alone with my imagination, neglected and tucked away in a corner like an old favorite toy that I am supposed to have outgrown. And when no one is looking I go up to the attic, I pull it out and dust it off, and to me it still holds the magic that it always did. I want other people to have access to that old toy, tucked away in their attic, to be set free, to be shiny and new again for them. I know that with my words I can do this: I know that it can unlock old worlds for them. I walk to figure out how to do this. I walk because I believe in this possibility.

I walk by the graveyard because I am not afraid of the dead. I walk by the graveyard because the silence there is the best kind – it is a silence full of stories that only a certain ear can hear, and I think that I would like to hear them. I walk by the graveyard because I miss my dad. I wonder if the dead can miss people. I wonder if he misses me.

As a child I used to go to this same library, and sometimes I see myself on the floor, turning pages and mouthing the words. I walk to see this ghost of myself and remember that she is still me and I am still her. I walk to hear the whisper of that little girl's voice that once said with perfect clarity: i will be a writer when I grow up. I walk to make it true for her: I walk to find my voice, that, some days, is buried too deep.

I walk because Dad wrote me a poem before he died and I want to recite it in my head.

I walk because what I really want to do is write, and some days, I’m too afraid to pick up a pen.


in the deep

Mon, 11/19/2012 - 12:58PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

<span style="font-size: small;">

It is raining, raining so hard that it is going sideways. A blue jay hops along the fence with a peanut in his beak. I wonder where he found it.</span>

I am heading to work which could mean my couch or a coffeeshop. It depends on the day. I’m always working and I’m never working.

What am I doing?

I’m writing a book.

I choked this sentence out – for the first time - on Saturday at a birthday party for my friend’s son. I was chatting with another woman, and she asked me if I was going to work fulltime until the baby was born.

“Well, actually, I’m, well, I’m not working right now. I mean –“ I took a sip of my non-alcoholic punch and tried to start over. “I’m writing a book,” I spluttered.

I’m not sure what I expected as a reaction: pity, fear, laughter – a kind pat on the shoulder and a “you’re crazy.” But instead the woman nodded and said: “good for you for owning it.”

So I thought I should go public about it. I. Am. Writing. A. Book. No, I’m not going to talk about what it’s about, but all you need to know is that I’m sticking to the age-old piece of book-writing wisdom: I’m writing what I know, what I’ve lived, I’m writing fragments of my life mixed with a healthy dose of imagination. And I’m writing partly because I want to and mostly because I have to.

I’m feeling doubly pregnant right now, with a baby and a book – two things that already bring me great joy, great discomfort, a healthy dose of terror, but both stemming from a place of love. With both, I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I’m doing the best I can, and hopefully that’s good enough.

I don’t know why saying “I’m writing a book” is so difficult for me. Part of me feels like it’s something everyone attempts and, like opening a restaurant, most aren’t qualified to do. Inevitably, the restaurant fails, the book goes unfinished and unpublished, and the person shrugs and says, “well, at least I tried.”

That is not enough for me. I’m not doing this as a hobby, or ‘just because.’ I’m doing this because I’ve always known that I must, and putting it off like I have for years will only get you to the end of your life, with no time left and a lot of regret. I've said the "one day I'll write a book" for years. When does the one day become today? Why is it always tomorrow?

I’ve seen the premature end of a life of someone I loved deeply, and I’m witnessing the beginning of a life in my own body. You have no guarantees. You are here, today, all of us on borrowed time, so what are you putting off? What do you want to say to someone at a party, that one sentence that scares you because all those tomorrows is now today? What is your truth you’re afraid to live because you might fail? Go do it. Life is short but it is wide, so stop standing in the shallow water. Go do what scares you. Right now.

I’ll see you in the deep end.



Tue, 11/13/2012 - 12:52PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

<span style="font-size: small;">

I held your hand and stroked your forehead and heard your last breath rattle and go out like a flickering light and I looked at the clock and said “8:08”. I had a vision then, of you holding mom’s hand in 1981 and listening to my first breath and looking at the clock and saying “1:01” and you cried like I cried when I said “8:08” for the same and different reason.</span>

We shared doughnuts, you and I. Me, smaller but with the bigger half, and you polishing off your share in one bite. Your mustache caught the crumbs. I eat a doughnut and feel my son kick and I think: I can’t wait to give him the bigger half.

You taught me to ride my bike on the Burke Gilman Trail. Are you there, I’d ask, again and again. Yes you said, yes I’m here, again and again. And then the one time I didn’t ask, you weren’t there, you were ten strides behind and I was pedaling on two wheels, on my own. Just days ago I walk the Burke Gilman with my mother and we pass a woman and she says Anna Tabor? And we stop and talk and she is an old friend and she looks at me and says, You look more and more like your dad.

I don’t see you in my dreams and I can’t open my front door and say Dad! And welcome you into my home and make you a gin and tonic like I wish I could. I don’t get to hug you or call you on the phone and tell you it’s a grandson for you. I don’t get to walk to BurgerMaster with you and order your favorite, #2, and say, This time, it’s on me. I don’t get to pay you back for all the things you did for me, continue to do for me, and will always do for me.

But I get to pay you back by paying it forward. You have been one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever known, and I learn from you still. I am writing this for you, for me, for my family, for my husband, for my baby. I am writing now as my job, as my joy, as my purpose. What I was born to do.

And sometimes life makes sense, just for a second, in a fleeting, poignant moment. I see my baby wriggle on the ultrasound screen and hear the ultrasound tech say it’s a boy. A single tear slides down my cheek and I watch his little profile and I hope from the deepest part of my soul that one day I will gaze into his face and see you.

I will look for you.

I will look for you like I have every day since you’ve been gone.

And I will see you like I have seen you every day since you’ve been gone, in different ways than I used to see you. And I hope I see my son the way you saw me: a promise, a hope, a joy, a challenge, a continuance. 


Burying the summer

Tue, 09/11/2012 - 2:25PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

September always makes me think of transitions - from summer into fall, and all the other changes that inevitably happen when the seasons shift. And every September, as I get out my sweaters and (mournfully) put away my flip-flops, I start thinking about all the other Septembers I've lived, all the other summers I've tucked away into my past. 

Fourteen Septembers ago - in 1998 - I was a senior in highschool, had just survived anaphylactic shock thanks to  some bee stings, and was sending in my college applications. There's nothing more sobering than having a near-death experience as a teenager, and so I was already starting to understand my mortality in ways that I think most seventeen year olds can't quite wrap their minds around. 

And then I lost one of my favorite people.

On September 4, 1998, my grandmother lost her battle with multiple myeloma. It had been quick, painful, only four months from diagnosis to death. She was 72, and her hair still hadn't turned grey. We called her Tweet in honor of her love for birds, and her passing was the first time that I realized a lesson I would continue to learn: no matter how good someone is, or how deeply you love them, you cannot save them from bad things. 

When I think about my childhood, I think of Tweet almost before I think of anyone or anything else. I think of her smile with too many teeth, her deep gray eyes, her southern accent, and the south. Oh how I think of the south.

She was synonymous to the south for me. Humid, pine-scented summers spent with her in Rome, Georgia, biscuits in the morning, bacon grease in the green beans at night, and being read to sleep in the bed my mother was a girl in. 

Tweet had grown up in a town smaller than Rome, a place called Gore, Georgia. She was one of four children, and the house she grew up in was still standing on its acres and acres of beautiful Georgia farmland. We would celebrate every fourth of July with a picnic at the house: my great aunts and great uncles, my parents, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my cousins.

The house still had most of its furniture from the '20s and '30s - the old beds with layers of dust and dolls with beady eyes perched on top - gray and white framed photos of ancestors on the walls with solemn stares - a decrepit organ. And to me, it was the most beautiful house in the world. As the oldest cousin, I got to go early to help set up for the picnic, my great-aunt stopping at the tiny store in Gore for a bottled coke, mayonnaise, white bread, tomatoes, and vienna sausages. We would make our sandwiches on the little wooden kitchen table and she would tell me about the photos, the house, the ancestors. I felt connected to something bigger, a chain of people and lives that - if they had not existed - I could not be where I was, sipping a Coke on a hot summer day in Georgia.

My great-aunt and I - we set up the tables and chairs outside, and then the food - oh yes, the food - and the people - started to arrive. Fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, biscuits, tomatoes, watermelon, lemonade, ice tea, pies, and of course - hand-churned peach ice cream. The heat and humidity deterred no one from the heavy food, fans passed out from the local funeral home in a small attempt to keep it at bay - and we would eat and talk and play.

After we had digested for a bit, we would spray generous amounts of OFF! on our legs and arms and go on a walk in the beautiful country. One summer - and I'm not sure how old I was, maybe 9 or 10? We came upon on old, tiny cemetery. Bethel cemetery. The cemetery itself was buried in a heavy grove of trees, with a small shallow fence encapsulating the gravestones. I was enraptured by this whole community that seemed to have been swallowed into the countryside, and I thought to myself: is this all there is that is left of them? Just a stone in the ground?

Over the next few years, we would occasionally walk back to that cemetery, and it made me feel peaceful in a way that I couldn't quite put a finger on. Sometimes, indulging my imagination and writer-tendencies, I would bring a notebook and make up stories about the families that were at rest there. I was starting to realize that the best stories aren't fiction at all, but have played out in the histories and lives of those before and around us. As a writer, you have to excavate these histories, pull them out from the ground and give them new life, resucitate them in ways that others can enjoy.

Fourteen years later, as I embrace a new season and pack away summer, I have more of a desire than ever to write. It's always been there, that need, but now I would never think to do something so "weird" as taking a notebook to a graveyard and scribbling stories on hot summer days. And that's too bad, because that's who I truly am: a sentimental person who believes in the power of the lives of those who came before me. And I'm tired of trying to not be who I really am. So I'm going to start writing again, and therefore being me on a level I haven't for awhile: that little girl who loves the South, adored her grandmother, found inspiration in cemeteries, and gained immense satisfaction from the simplicty of a Vienna Sausage sandwich - on white bread - with an ice-cold Coca-Cola.



Rising up

Tue, 02/14/2012 - 4:40PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

In a green leather album marked 1981 there is a photo with rounded edges. It is slightly overexposed and beginning to yellow with time. Three women and a baby are seated on an overstuffed floral couch. Underneath the photo reads the caption “Four Generations”.

I am this infant, six months old, surrounded and protected by my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother. I am sitting on my mother’s lap, my beautiful mother with her honey colored hair and deep brown eyes. She is looking down at me and smiling. To her left is her mother, petite and lovely, her blue blouse ironed and perfect. She is looking at my mother and her eyes twinkle. And to her left sits my great-grandmother, wrinkled with time and hard work, the only one looking at the camera with her Mona Lisa smile. Her dress is floral like the couch.

I love this photo. I MARVEL at this photo. The rareness of having four generations together, alive, on a couch. Thirty years later, my mother and I are the only surviving members of this photo.

At that point in my life I also had four generations alive on my father’s side. And, as we expect from life, the generations have been peeled away, sometimes in order, sometimes not. With the passing of my grandmother on 2/4/12, we are all gone now - except for me. When I think of this – that I would be alone on that generational couch - it makes me sad. Sad, lonely, and even a little scared. Because with those layers peeled away and gone, there I am, exposed to the world. I’m next up at bat. I can no longer hide behind an older generation to get it right, to do it first, to fix the problem. It is my turn to step up to the plate. It is my turn to be the oldest of the generations, to be wizened by hard work and reality and time. It is my turn to get up off the couch and be the woman, the possibility – of everything that I was born to be. And I rise up, despite the loneliness at being left behind and the fear of navigating the uncharted waters of life and adulthood. I rise up and accept the challenge that every one who ever came before me accepted. I accept the challenge of the certainty that we will all come and go, that we will all exist and then not exist, and that the only things that can truly be left behind are those intangible things like love and wisdom and knowledge that can’t be photographed on a couch. But if they could be - if they were visible to the eye and I could take them out - these qualities of my ancestors - and set them down next to me on that couch, it would be apparent that they have not left me behind at all, and are, in fact, alive and well. Living in me, living in you, and living in all of us who walk this earth in search of love and peace.



The Chronic

Thu, 02/02/2012 - 4:15PM by Tessa619 0 Comments -

No, this blog post isn't in reference to Dr. Dre's 1992 solo debut album (even though I have much love for 'Nothing but a G-Thang'). Nor is it a shout-out to one of my all-time favorite SNL digital shorts ('Lazy Sunday', anyone?) I'm talking about chronic pain. Yeah. THAT type of chronic.

For about ten years I've dealt with chronic abdominal pain. It comes and goes, the way chronic pain can, but it never goes away forever. It's never far. The good news? Nothing bad is wrong with me. And I know that because I've gone through a litany of tests, seen multiple doctors/specialists over the years, and have tried everything from acupuncture to Chinese Herbs. The bad news? I have nerves that misfire. And in case you're interested, misfiring nerves means chronic pain, for no apparent reason.

Since there's nothing really bad wrong with me, there's no cure. Just pain management. And I have come so, so far in the past ten years in managing it. But sometimes - sometimes, I feel like it manages me.

Feeling betrayed by your body and unable to control how you feel is incredibly frustrating. Feeling like your body and its symptoms has you on a leash, at its mercy, is maddening. I quickly realized that feeling mad, angry, and frustrated was not going to lead to my body feeling better. In fact, it would probaly make me feel quite worse.

So how to get out of this cycle of physical pain = emotional turmoil? It's a toughie, for those of you who have experienced chronic, recurrent pain. And for me, I found that outlet in yoga.

Yoga made me feel strong and capable not only in my body, but in my mind as well. The breathing taught me that I could - literally - breathe through the hard parts and that understanding of the power of breath built mental and physical tenacity. It has also brought me a whole new livelihood.

So, one would say that if I didn't have this chronic pain, I would never have found the joy that is yoga, a practice that has become more than that: it has now become my life as I teach and manage at a lovely, amazing studio in downtown Seattle. Isn't that the truth of everything? That the prettiest of flowers can grow even in the darkest of places? This journey has also taught me the lessons that I do think we all learn eventually if we live long enough: life is not easy or fair, your happiness is not a guarantee, and that while you can't always control what happens to you, you can certainly control how you deal with it.

My Dad used to say all the time that "life was having fun solving problems."  And when he said that I would scoff or roll my eyes and think about the impossibility of FUN + PROBLEM having anything in common. Well, in another instance of my parents being right yet again (that only hurt a little to admit) - they have everything in common. That if you can't find satisfaction in the solving of a problem or the finding of a solution, then you are going to have about Zero Fun in your life.

I don't talk about 'The Chronic' much. I don't believe in giving it more power by harping on it, talking about it, dwelling on it. Blah blah blah. We all got 99 Problems and the....(yeah, if you get my Jay-Z reference, you can finish the sentence for me). Also, it certainly does not define me and I don't want others to have it define me either. But it has given me the tools of yoga: patience, breathing, tenacity - and those are qualities that I hope are around for the rest of my life. I hope that they are qualities that ARE chronic, if you will. Because if I can get the good with the bad, then it's not all bad, right? In fact, perhaps - to quote my dad again - it's all good.

It's all good.