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My stuff that matters a lot to me fits in a small carry-on.
My stuff that matters a little less to me fits in a small car.
Electricity and air conditioning are luxurious necessities.
Order is calming.
Waiting is hard.
My sister is brave.
Afternoon bourbon is helpful.
Ribs can be cooked on Sterno.
No one wants to leave home, even when a Category 5 storm is coming, even when there is no electricity.
Little kindnesses like cleaning-out-my-freezer casserole shared with a neighbor are appreciated more than usual.
Imminently restored electricity makes a woman want to hug a lineman from Indiana.
Adrenaline crash will kick your ass.
From Mary Oliver’s Upstream: “All things are meltable, and replaceable. Not at this moment, but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.”
I started blogging right after President Obama’s inauguration, participating in optimism and a sense of community here and in my little corner of the early days of Twitter. Vice President Biden championed victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and the Violence Against Women Act was strong and enforced.
But life–my life, your life, the life of the country–goes on, gets in the way, changes everything. And here we are.
My brother-in-law’s cancer fight over; my sister’s grief is a little bit less fresh.
Mr. Z and the dogs and I have moved house and reshuffled priorities.
My book is still in revision. I’m back to it now.
It’s time for me to start talking again, with anyone who will listen.
Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
I left south Florida at 8:30 on the morning after Thanksgiving, and I was landing here again fewer than 36 hours later, at 8 on Saturday night. A week later I have a sense of what took me back to a very different “south”–South Carolina–and what I brought back home with me.
There were name tags to help us remember our natural hair color:
Thirty-six of eighty-nine former classmates smiled for the cameras:
With the exception of my friend Michelle, I hadn’t seen my classmates since graduation.
We talked about where we live, whom we live with, our families, what we’ve been doing since we graduated from high school.
Even though I had been separated from them by geography and time, I realized that those relationships–close friends, casual acquaintances, and people whose lives I only imagined–shaped me and many of my core beliefs about myself and the world. Some of those beliefs I still hold onto, and some have been dismantled by life, but their origins were with me last weekend and are here in this picture.
I would have liked more time with my former classmates, a second night of reuniting, maybe, when, thirty years of ice having been broken or at least chipped, I could learn more about their lives. Today I received a newsletter with more of the stories I wanted.
And I have a clearer understanding of who I am and where I’ve been because of reconnecting with some of the people who surrounded me when I was seventeen.
I’m sitting in the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, waiting to board a plane to South Carolina for my 30th high school reunion.
I didn’t go to the 10th (divorcing my first husband) or the 20th (temporarily separated from my second husband) or the 25th (divorcing my second husband). Finally, 30 years after high school, tumultuous relationships in the past, I can go back.
I keep asking myself why I decided to take this trip. I’ve kept in touch with only one friend, Michelle, who will join me for a cocktail tonight and brunch tomorrow as well as the reunion.
Writing my memoir has meant exploring the past ten or twenty years in excruciating detail. I haven’t spent much time remembering high school. But one thing leads to another, doesn’t it?
What do I want to know, find, experience? I’m not sure.
On March 1, I had an idea so clear and bright that before I knew it, I was sending out this email:
“I’m putting together a month of blog posts for National Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is Women’s Education–Women’s Empowerment. Women’s stories are near and dear to my heart, and I believe they are important to you, too. I admire your writing, and I would be honored if you would be willing to share a story and/or photos in a guest blog post at www.angelakelsey.com. I’d love to read your stories of women who’ve contributed to your education and/or your empowerment, in whatever way(s) you choose to define the words and convey your stories. Poetry, prose, and photos are welcome.”
After the initial email, I exercised no more control over this series than I did over the hydrangea pictured here, and the pieces worked together just as beautifully, just as organically. With the exception of knowing that I wanted to contain the posts within the supportive bookends of Jeanne and Julie, I posted them in the order I received them, and if you read them in order, I think you will see that a whole, greater than the sum of its parts, was formed.
Part of me, not wanting to impinge upon the nest that’s been created of its own accord, wants to post an awestruck retrospective that simply says, “Wow.”
Wow to the synergy and the dance of the posts with each other. Wow to the openness and the willingness of the writers. Wow to the women they honor, the personal journeys they share. Wow to those who continued the conversation through their comments.
Another part wants to acknowledge the generosity of each woman who gave of herself and her life and her stories. Another part wants to highlight some of the themes that emerged.
So, in awe mixed with gratitude, I do a little of each, although these pieces are so tightly interwoven that they touch each other in many more ways than I can show here.
Today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month is by Julie Daley. Since I first met Julie, a “transforming force” herself, on Twitter, I’ve been drawn to her and to her truly unabashed love of the feminine and the Feminine. Enjoy.
“The connections between and among women are the most feared, the most problematic, and the most potentially transforming force on the planet.”
~ Adrienne Rich
My mother taught me many things: independence, tenacity, artistry, the joy of finding one’s passion and embracing it. She also taught me to fear: intimacy, being abandoned, being alone in the world with huge responsibilities. And, she taught me to keep going even though the fear was here. She taught me both to not trust myself and to deeply trust myself. Of course, she wasn’t the only one who taught me these things. But, as women, what we learn from our mothers is deeply meaningful because of the nature of relationship and connection between mother and daughter; it also holds deep transformational possibilities, for the same reasons.
My mother was an amazing woman, I mean truly amazing. Back when it was unheard of to be a divorced single mother, back when that carried a huge stigma and caused other women to fear her singleness, my mother walked this path with dignity. It wasn’t her choice; she was left for another.
Before she died, she remarked to me that raising her three daughters was the gift of her life.
Adrienne Rich also wrote, “The Mother I needed to have was silenced before I was born.”
This isn’t a diatribe against my mother. It is the opposite. Our relationship was problematic, yet over the years as she moved towards death, and the years since her passing, as I have become a more conscious, compassionate woman, I have come to know the huge potential for transformation our relationship held.
A few years back, I discovered something rich and deep and painful, something that ignited a love so profound that it has altered the arc of my life, like an explosion changes the course forever of the thing exploded.
I was just beginning a three-day dance workshop in the 5Rhythms, a dance practice I’ve now been engaged in for the past ten years. During this particular weekend, we began the workshop on Friday dancing solely with others of the same gender – women with women, men with men. This was the first opportunity I had ever had to dance solely with women.
As I entered the church where we were to dance, and took to the wooden sprung floor in my bare feet, I noticed something vastly different than what I had experienced before: there was no male energy anywhere. While I’ve been in all-women gatherings before, never had I been immersed in a moment when there were only women dancing deep from within their bodies, deep from the heart.
As I danced, I first felt a kind of freedom in this women-only place. It felt lighter, yet grounded, gentler, yet more sensual. I could feel a part of me emerge that I’d never encountered on the dance floor. It was this sensual, grounded, erotic playfulness, a part that needed a bit of safety to come out and explore. The woman-only space invited this out.
But as I continued to dance, I became aware of an ever-so subtle, barely palpable, fear that I was feeling. At first, I couldn’t quite feel it, yet I knew it was there in my body. I continued to dance, to dance the fear, to invite it out, to make itself known. As it did, it began to dance me. It began to speak. It had been muzzled all my life, and now, in this room full of women dancing together, without whatever layers come when men are present, it offered its gift.
This fear was a fear of women. It was a fear of being intimate with other women. It was a fear, even distrust, of the nature of women, of my own nature as a woman.
As the fear continued to dance me, tears began to fall, tears of rejection, separation and abandonment. I could feel this fear that had kept me from trusting my own mother, other women, and my own womanhood. I could also begin to sense a longing, a longing to know my own womanhood, to know these women who surrounded me with their dance, and to know my mother in her own womanliness.
This part of my mother had been hidden from me…by her. She didn’t trust this. She feared this. She didn’t know how to reach out from this place of womanhood, mother to daughter, woman to woman.
My mother taught me to fear; yet she also taught me to inquire. She taught me to distrust, yet also to hold fast to what I instinctively knew was true in my heart.
She taught me to be the kind of person that doggedly pursues the path of knowing self, the path that had taken me to this moment of dance and unfolding.
My mother had been silenced before I was born; as was her mother, as was her mother’s mother…and so on. And yet, what never had left the women I’ve come from is the deep instinctive knowing that lies at the heart and soul of being a woman.
As I danced, as the tears flowed, as I moved the fear and the fear moved me, something deeper began to emerge: an old-as-the-ages love for women and womanhood. Over the course of those hours of dance, and into the next many years of my life, what began as just an inkling in my field of body awareness, blossomed into a deep knowing and understanding of the power and nature of ‘the connections and between and among women’.
The web of women, and the love inherent in this web, is one of the most powerful, and feared, forces in life. Its nature has been repressed and silenced for thousands of years. Yet we know these connections, and the love within them, deep in our cells and in the marrow of our bones.
My mother taught me this. Now, in my wiser place, I can see how much she loved her daughters, how she would, and did, do anything, absolutely anything she could to love us, to care for us. And in this wiser place, I can see how hamstrung she was by the silencing, by the conditioning that had caused her to fear her own love, to fear intimacy, to fear her womanhood.
This understanding has brought a deep compassion for her, for women, and for the painful tension within myself between the fear of knowing my nature and the yearning to know this nature.
This tension is the creative tipping point. It is the doorway into an organically unfolding remembering of our nature as women. This nature is unlike that of men. It is not a compliment to man. It is a nature unto itself and when it stands in right relationship to the nature of man it will begin to transform our relationship to the sacredness of life.
A dancer at heart, Julie would love nothing more than to live her life and do her work from the dance floor. Ten years in the practice of 5Rhythms has opened her to the joy and wildness that is at the heart of women’s creativity. A writer, teacher, coach, and yes, dancer, Julie savors life playing with her wee grandchildren and serving the women and men who are called to work with her. Julie is happiest when she is breathing through her feet.