The Mess

Life is all about the messy moments.

To get to the good stuff – love, creative flow and thriving – we have to live in the weeds for awhile. Sometimes we have to live in the weeds for a really long time and we’re not talking Instagram-pretty weeds displayed in a vintage mason jar.

We have to live in the ugly, prickly, yucky weeds and it ain’t fun.
But, then we get a few beautiful days, or months, or even just moments and it makes it all worth it. It’s like having six days of grey skies and then the sun comes out.

The messy is exhausting but also liberating, because when you’re really in the depths of the messy, knee-deep in the weeds, you kind of have nothing to lose.

Think of the messiness like your tripped-out, Burning Man alter ego who gives you permission to just say “Fuck It.” Spinning around on their 1970’s lowrider bicycle, your Burning Man alter ego yells out random bits of advice:

Ask for what you need, ask for what you want. If they can’t give it to you, then just Peace Out and Keep It Moving.”
“Dude, fall in love with yourself!”
“Take up more space. Why are you letting all these clowns crowd you out?!


And actually your Burning Man alter ego is pretty damn wise. They’re like having your own personal psychedelic therapist living on your shoulder. Best listen up. They’ll get you out of the weeds and into the sunshine in no time.

My Sweetness

Oh my sweetness. My lovely young girl.
There were so many times that I wasn’t there for you. I was supposed to be your spirit guide, watching over you and keeping you safe, but I failed.

Remember when that boyfriend commented on your “cute stomach?” It wasn’t a compliment. You had just had sex with him in his parents’ house on their carpeted staircase – which by the way is really uncomfortable, it’s not like it is in the movies. Afterwards you were sitting in front of the fireplace, naked and drinking coffee. Your stomach was flat as a pancake, not that that should matter. The point was he wanted to make you feel bad. He liked really skinny girls. His last girlfriend had been anorexic. She suffered from one of the scariest, most difficult to treat mental illnesses and he idealized her frail body.

So there you sat, twenty years old, vulnerable, doing your sparkle thing, but secretly feeling like shit. Probably smoking a cigarette because he was a smoker. Probably getting some gross infection from the shag rug on that damn carpeted staircase.

I want to embrace that small body of yours with the big 80’s long curly hair. I want to dress you quickly in whatever you were wearing – probably a black, slightly goth-y dress with an oversized menswear coat. I want to hurry you out into a waiting cab and whisper in your ear:
My darling, you are magic. This young man is broken, though it’s not his fault, but don’t let his broken pieces wound you. Don’t let his jagged edges make you bleed.”

I’m here for you now. Better late than never, right? Think of me like your own private Amazonian Goddess: ready and able to take down anyone who tries to harm you. You’re protected. So go do what your heart desires and don’t worry ~ everything will be alright.

Lucy Liu photographed by Peter Lindbergh, Harper’s Bazaar August 2008

Slay

You know how balloons sometimes look over-inflated? Like they might burst at any moment? That’s you.

When you explode, will your anger come blasting out like a dragon spewing fire? That’s what I imagine. Not sure what I’ll do, dragons are hard to slay.

I’ve never experienced having to walk on eggshells and I don’t like how they feel. You might think egg shells wouldn’t hurt, but you would be wrong; my feet are scraped raw.

Don’t know how we got here, but it’s not a destination that I ever wanted to visit. I would like to leave immediately. Can we hop on a plane? Maybe if we go someplace tropical your anger will melt away.

Surely the universe or God wants better for us. Then again I’m not sure I believe in God. I pray every night, but that might just be a leftover habit from two excruciating years of Catholic school.

Living in anger’s house is exhausting. I have never been this tired. But, my spirit is slowly re-awakening. It’s as if my spirit went for a spa weekend and came back feeling renewed – remembering how to sparkle again.

And guess what? I just found out that sparkle can slay dragons.

Art by Lou Benesch

Do You Remember?

Remember in high school when we used to buy weed at the health food store? Our dealer worked there. He would pass us the drugs at the check-out counter as we paid for apples and yogurt-covered raisins.

So many memories of you and I. Always together as a team. Often up to no good, but maintaining excellent grades so that our parents stayed off our backs.

And always secretly in love with each other.

Sure we were part of a larger clique, but we were inseparable. Rolling our eyes at each other as Jenny and Steve made out in the hallway. Trying to make each other laugh in math class so that our teacher Mr. Halloway finally separated us. You had that thing where you flared your nostrils and it got me every time. Even if you were across the room, if I looked up and saw you flaring your nostrils I would burst out laughing.

Remember Halloween 1984? We dressed up as Sony and Cher and won best costume duo at the dance. That was the same year that Erica passed out in the coat room.

“She could choke on her vomit, she drank like five screwdrivers, let’s stay with her” you said, so we smoked cigarettes watching over her until she woke up.

Where were the teachers? The parents? I literally don’t remember anyone really in charge back then. Good God.

We occasionally dated people, but it was just for show. We weren’t actually interested in anyone but each other.

Remember that private school guy I dated for a few months? He was a fencer. You used to make fun of his fencing uniform and it was ridiculous. You dated that pretty Australian girl for awhile, the one who smelled like cherry lip gloss. I made fun of your mouth because it was always shiny after she kissed you.

Applying to colleges we made sure to apply to the same ones, or at least colleges in the same area. In the end you chose Columbia and I chose NYU and on the weekends we would meet up and go dancing at that crazy club. It was in a church. What was it called? Limelight! It was called Limelight. We saw kids shooting up heroin there and it scared me, so you grabbed my hand and flared your nostrils to make me laugh.

And then there was that night: tripping on mushrooms in Central Park. It was right after December exams and we were making snow angels and giggling at the stars which looked like psychedelic planets to us.

“I’ve been in love with you since the ninth grade, when you walked into home room wearing those pointy black buckled boots. You were so cool. So smart and funny. Way out of my league. But I swore that one day I would marry you.”

“Whaaaat?” I yelled, throwing snow on you.

“I’ve been in love with YOU since I saw you in home room. You were wearing skinny black cords and a Clash t-shirt and I thought you were the most beautiful boy I had ever seen.”

You grabbed my face with your mittens, the mittens your grandmother knit you every winter and you kissed me. We kissed and we kissed and we kissed and oh my god it felt so good to kiss you; I’d been waiting for years.

“I know we’re baked, but damn Lizzie I want to marry you. Will you marry me?”

“Oh my God our parents will freak out!” I said between kisses.

“But, yes, I’ll marry you,” I said smiling.

A few days later we were standing in Manhattan’s City Clerk’s Office. You wearing a secondhand black suit, white shirt, skinny tie and your Chuck Taylors. Me wearing a 1960’s black lace dress, rhinestone earrings and black heels borrowed from my wealthy roommate. We bought our rings from a street vendor named Tate who made jewelry from discarded wire.

You remembered to bring your Nikon and we payed the security guard to take photos of us. God we were beautiful. Young and beautiful and so in love.

Who gets married in their Junior year of college? No one. So we kept it a secret.

We moved into that tiny east village apartment, the one near Avenue A. Our first night in our new home was Chinese take out from Lily’s around the corner. We ate with chopsticks, sitting on the beautiful Persian carpet that I had scored on garbage night. I eventually decorated our whole apartment with furniture I found on garbage night, mostly from the upper east side. I would take the subway home with all kinds of treasures: 1930’s standing lamps, ornate gold mirrors, mid-century artwork…People threw out good stuff back then.

Making love on that tiny futon up in the loft until we were exhausted and starving. You would climb down the rickety ladder to fetch us a snack and we’d fall asleep listening to “Pictures of You” by The Cure.

“Mom, let me take over for you. You’re exhausted. Go home and get some rest. I’ll stay here with dad.”

“Thanks love,” I say, taking my daughter’s hand.

“I’m going to read him my new poems. I’m pretty sure he can hear me, I think it soothes him.”

“Oh good, he loves your writing. And of course he can hear you, your father is still in there, we just need to give him time to wake up. Tatiana is the nighttime nurse, they have the sweetest southern accent.”

“Okay. Make sure to eat something when you get home. I bought you groceries and a nice bottle of red.”

“Oh what a nice treat, thank you Lily-Rose.”

Bending down to kiss your freckled forehead, I whisper in your ear:

“Beautiful man, wake up from your sleep. I need you. Lily-Rose needs you. Our love story is not finished yet, we have many chapters to go still.”

Photo by Mario De Biasi, Milan 1961

Betrayal

What happened?
Why didn’t you protect me?
I’m your spirit
You’re nothing without me, like a balloon with no air
I can’t believe you betrayed me like this
Your only job as a human was to protect me, to keep me alive and vibrant
You failed
Maybe I should feel sorry for you, show more compassion, try to understand why you let this happen
But I’m too angry
I gave you so many good years
So much Radiance. Laughter. Beauty. Sparkle. Enthusiasm. Joy. Abundance.
And this is how you repay me?
You watched as he broke me into pieces
You didn’t fight for me
You gave up
So don’t you dare assume that I’m going to get right back up and start twirling and tossing my damn glitter baton high up in the air for you
NO
Show me that you remember how breathtaking I am
Show me that you cherish me and will protect me forever
And then maybe, maybe I will come back and light up your life again

By artist Debra Bernier:

https://shapingspirit.myshopify.com

Fall Flowers

Scrolling through my Spotify playlists to find that song.
That song that makes me feel so good.
So good that when I walk along Queen Street with the sun shining and my fake Raybans on, I feel unstoppable.
There, found it. Press play.

Now I am beautiful.
I am emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy.
The kind of woman who drinks Matcha tea, organic wine and eats only eggs from the really happy hens, not the sad ones in cages.
Effortlessly chic.
I am fulfilled.
I use crystal rituals in my weekend self-care routines.
I am in a relationship that is both deep and nourishing, yet light and joyful.

Let me play this song again, just one more time.
I don’t want to let go of this version of myself quite yet.
I love her.
I looooove her.
Okay, it’s on repeat. All is good. I’m still her.

I smile at strangers walking past me, admire Halloween decorations and wave at a little toddler wearing sparkly shoes.
Being her means my roots are always touched up, never grey.
I practice yoga and tantric sex, giving my complexion that gorgeous, glow-y from within look.
I don’t just live, I thrive.

Oh no, someone is calling me, interrupting my time with her.
It’s my husband.
I answer.

“Can you pick up some snacks, you know like chips and stuff? The guys are coming over tonight to watch the game.”

“Sure, no problem,” I say lightly trying not to lose her.

I pop into our local grocer, waving at the checkout guy.
I’m still her, for a little longer.
I grab chips and pretzels and all the usual crap that my husband likes eating while watching sports.
Then I grab myself a bouquet of mixed fall flowers, that’s what she would do.
She would buy herself flowers every week, never leaving them to die and rot in the vase.
I spot a container of overpriced pre-cut fruit pieces – her favorite.

I replay the song again.
I feel so good being her.
She loves dark chocolate with sea salt, so I toss a couple of bars into my basket.
In the refrigerator, next to the Kombucha, is a new drink I’ve never seen before.
It’s called Goddess Juice, a turmeric based elixir that you take as a daily shot for:
“Enhancing your inner functioning, wellbeing and spirit,” the label says.
Oh this is exactly what she would like, she would totally buy this.

I pause my music so I can chat with the checkout guy.

“You watching the game tonight? I’ve got a good feeling about this one, I think the Leafs are gonna win.”

“My husband is. He just bought himself a special beer fridge for the new season.”

“Sweet.”

I pay, then continue walking home.
I’m now balancing two paper bags plus my purse, it’s too much and I’ve got several blocks to go.
Even though I’m still playing the song I feel her disappearing.

“Why can’t he buy his own snacks? What am I, his mother?”

As the irritation grows I feel her slipping further and further away. She’s wearing oatmeal-colored cashmere loungewear and she doesn’t like my energy right now.

I walk the final block to our tiny row house; I’m sweating. It’s fall but somehow I’m sweating.
I turn the key and my husband meets me at the door:

“Thanks babe, you’re fucking amazing,” he says as he takes the two bags and kisses my forehead.

He’s talking to me about I don’t know what, not even noticing the Goddess Juice, which is something he would usually make fun of. I hide the juice at the bottom of the fridge and fill a vase with water.

“I have a good feeling about the Leafs tonight, I think they’re gonna win,” I say while arranging my flowers.

“Ah babe, that’s what I like to hear. Go Leafs!” he yells, emptying bags of chips into bowls.

I pour myself a glass of red wine and take a sip, followed by a bite of dark chocolate with sea salt – it’s exactly what she would do. And My God it’s delicious.

https://janneford.com

Dry Hands

Let’s do it
Let’s jump together
Into lightness, into frivolity
I know it’s not usually where we hang out
We usually hang out in the darkness, in the heaviness
But I don’t like it here anymore
It’s sad and it’s hard to breathe
Please, take my hand and let’s jump together
No, I can’t promise anything
It might not work
Maybe we are not meant to live in lightness
Maybe in a past life we were horrible people and now we have to live in the darkness, you know like karma
But I think that’s unlikely
I think if we jumped into lightness, into joy
I think we would really like it there
We could laugh and sing and eat cake
I mean who doesn’t like cake?
Let’s try, it’s worth trying isn’t it?
Take my hand
I know my hand will probably feel weird because you’re not used to holding it
And it might be a little dry because I always forget to moisturize
But we deserve silly nights together, going to the fair and eating cotton candy
True, we don’t have an actual fair in this big angry city we live in, but think of it more like a metaphor
Take my hand and let’s just try
Let’s jump
And if you don’t like the light you can go back to the darkness
But I think I’m going to like the light
I’m ready for the light
Truthfully I’ve never liked living in this dark heavy place
I guess I should have told you that I didn’t like it here
But I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say anything
And it really is getting so hard to breathe
So please, won’t you take my hand and jump into the lightness with me?

Art by Willy Pogany

All The Candy You Want

It is both a beautiful blessing and kind of an odd curse to be so close with your parents. I cannot imagine my life without them.

Every time my mother falls, often hitting her head, I feel like I’ve been punched in the throat. Yesterday she fell while I was visiting and though I was able to help her somewhat, I was not able to lift her up. So I made her comfortable on the floor and I fed her ice cubes while we waited for my father to return home from golf (she did not want me to call 911). Apparently they had perfected a way of him lifting her up:

“He should be finished his game by now, but he might be having lunch at the club. Call the restaurant.”

I called and he had just left. God forbid my dad actually bring his cell phone with him. So my dog Lexie sat with us on the bathroom floor for 45 minutes and every so often she tried stealing ice cubes from my mother’s mouth, convinced they were treats.

Having just turned 80, my dad is in relatively good health, but recently he’s been looking much older. When it’s hot and humid out and he insists on playing golf three days in a row – even though he returns home looking haggard – I’m tempted to call the club and scream:

“How could you let this man play so many days? He’s going to die out there and I swear to God I will come for blood if that happens!”

Of course I am not that un-hinged, at least not yet, so instead I use my loving daughter skills to convince him to take a day off. I think he’s happy to have the rest. On some level he knows he needs it.

At dinner he regals us with funny stories from his youth. Like the time he drove an out of town date to a garbage dump to watch bears scavenge for treats (he grew up in Northern Ontario):

“You did not do that dad!”

His face lighting up, he answers:

“I did.”

Chiming in, my mom says:

“He was hoping the girl would jump in his arms for protection.”

Almost every day my mother falls asleep at the breakfast table. Many times I have found her slumped over, newspaper on the floor. Fearing the worst, I shake her frantically:

“Mom, mom wake up, WAKE UP!”

Though her feet and ankles are gnarled like old trees from arthritis, my mother still jazzes up her orthopaedic sneakers with brightly colored shoe laces. I love that about her. She also keeps jewelry in pill boxes and stays up until 3 AM writing cards to relatives. After her children were grown and out of the house, she went back to university and got her Master’s Degree and PhD. My mother lives for literature, ceramics, art and gemstones. Everyone loves chatting with “Mary” and everyone knows her:

“Oh is this cappuccino for Mary? Are you Mary’s daughter? Say hi to your mom for me,” Starbucks staff say.

The idea of my mother not being around to write me cryptic, all CAPS emails, signed “L, MOM” is inconceivable.

Until the age of three I was very happily an only child, when much to my dismay my brother appeared. According to family lore I tried murdering him by pushing his baby carriage down a steep hill. That sounds a tad dramatic to me, I mean I was only three. But my mother swears I tried to kill him. A year and a half later another brother came along and I remained un-impressed. I had loved being an only child and didn’t understand the need to complicate our lives with these loud, ridiculous boys.

Speaking of dramatic, my father has developed the most dramatic, terrifying cough, apparently due to “particles in his lungs.” Of course he only got that diagnosis (and an inhaler), after my mother and I badgered him for six months:

“You sound like you’re dying, could you PLEASE go to the doctor?” we pleaded. He keeps his inhaler in their antique writing desk and likes demonstrating the correct way to use it:

“You have to attach the inhaler to this thing – the chamber – and you have to inhale TWO times, not one.”

When my father needs my help with something having to do with emails, his computer, or things like vaccine paperwork, he often slips back into his “I’m a lawyer and you’re my secretary” mode and I have to check him:

“Dad, don’t use that work voice, I’m not your secretary.”

He loves wearing only one hearing aid so that multiple conversations are happening simultaneously:

“The Russians invaded Ukraine,” I’ll say.

“I know, there’s too much rain here,” he’ll answer.

The idea of my father not being around to drive me nuts is inconceivable too.

“When you were a baby we drove to New England with you in a laundry basket in the back seat,” he tells me over blueberry pie and ice cream.

“Ummm, that’s a little crazy!” I answer laughing. He loves seeing me get worked up over his stories.

Recently I said to my mother:

“You guys can’t die, I can’t live without you.”

“I know. But you’ll get through it. The grief will be horrible, but then it will start coming in smaller, less intense waves.”

Hugging her I said,

“No, I won’t get through it.”

“You can have me made into jewelry and wear me.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked my mother horrified.

“You can turn my ashes into a diamond, I read about it in The New York Times.”

“Jesus Christ.”

Then again, it might not be such a crazy idea. Better than a Catholic funeral. I remember my grandmother lying in her coffin in Hartford CT: the mortician had done a half assed job of sewing up her mouth. I leaned down close to her face, (closer than is proper etiquette), fixating on her stitches.

“But imagine if I lost you. Like if I lost your ashes-to-diamond jewelry?”

“Not a problem. You’re really good at finding things.”

That’s true. Whenever my parents lose something I usually find it within minutes.

Pre-grieving my parents’ death is of course an insane way to live, so I’m trying my best to stay in the present and enjoy every minute with them and write down all their stories:

“The neighbourhood boys tied me to a telephone pole because I wouldn’t give up my candy,” my mom recounted casually one day to me over shortbread cookies.

“OMG! That’s horrible, how scary.”

“I know and I was really upset because they took all my candy. When I didn’t come home from the store my mother went looking for me and and when she found me tied to the pole she said:
‘Mary, you could drive a saint to drink.'”

“That’s a horrible reaction, she was blaming you,” I said, but then we both burst out laughing. Later that night I noticed that there were several boxes of candy in the kitchen cupboard: chocolate balls, jujubes, hard toffee with creamy insides, turtles, mints…Now she gets all the candy she wants.

Maybe if I had kids of my own I would be too busy raising teenagers to spend so much time fixating on my parents. They would have loved to have had grandchildren. Instead my mother buys her grand-dog cozy velour blankets in every shade of the rainbow; Lexie has her own section in their hall closet. And my father adores her:

“You’re the best dog aren’t you? You’re the very best dog,” he says as he pets her lovingly.

In the TV room Lexie sits next to my father on the couch as he watches the news, or above his head on top of his giant reading chair as he reads The Wall Street Journal.

I’m fiercely protective of them and the older they get the more Mama Bear like my love for them becomes. Now if only I could find a way to keep them safe and healthy forever.

Spiritual Fixer

“I’m broken.”
“You are not broken.”
“But I am.”

“You might feel broken, but you are not broken. Do you hear me? You are not.”
“Okay.”

“Feeling broken is your psyche’s way of waving a giant red flag, it’s telling you to make changes immediately. Feeling broken is a warning sign and you must – you must – take it seriously.”

“I understand. Except that because I feel broken I also feel exhausted, unable to do anything.”

“That’s because you’ve given all your power away, you didn’t mean to, but you did. And that’s left you feeling tired: no power = no energy. I understand my dear sweet thing. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you have a hidden reserve of power. Think of it like a backup generator. And in emergencies – like now – you need to switch that generator ON to power you up.”

“Well I don’t know, that sounds a little nuts. A backup generator to magically give me energy so that I can make changes in my life?”

“What’s nuts is that you’re allowing the life to be choked out of you.”

“Well…”

“Either you believe me and tap into that backup generator to energize yourself, or I’ll move on to help someone else. I’m not getting any younger.”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to take up all your time, I’m not even sure who I’m talking to. Are you God?”

“God? No. If there’s a God he’s been on one long-assed vacation – I mean just look at the mess this world is in! Think of me more like a Fixer, A Spiritual Fixer.”

“That sounds like the name of a Netflix Series that I would watch.”

“Good, then maybe you’ll listen to me and use your backup generator and get your damn life turned around so you can stop feeling broken.”

“Okay, okay, I’ve got it. I believe you. I’m turning the generator on. Next time you see me I will have taken back all my power, I promise you.”

“Glad to hear it. Now I’ve got a busy schedule today, it seems there are a lot of people feeling broken in your neighborhood, so I’m off.”

“Thank you so much, I appreciate your help.”

“I’ll email you my invoice.”

“Wait, you charge for your services?”

“Well of course I charge for my services, why wouldn’t I? A girl’s gotta eat – and buy shoes! I’ll check in on you in two weeks, there’s no charge for the follow-up appointment.”

“Okay. I’ll see you then, bye.”

“Bye sweetness. And remember: you’ve got this, you really do.”

Artwork by Lucia Dami

Light Catcher

Twirling in the park, trying to catch my light
I know it’s out here
I just have to twirl a little faster
My arms outstretched
I almost had it earlier, but it slipped through my fingers
Like when you’re trying to climax but you can’t
Frustration
I can do this
This light is mine for the taking
If other people get to have their light then I do too
I’m going to twirl in this park until it’s mine
Like Wonder Woman spinning from her civilian clothes into her superhero outfit
I’m spinning to get my version of that
I mean I’ll make it my own, I’m not going to copy Wonder Woman’s look
Mine will probably be a black lace dress
My tiara will be made of iridescent crystals and vintage rhinestones
I’ll wear over-the-knee black suede boots like the ones I had in the 80’s from Le Chateau
Witch-y chic meets Urban Boho
Whatever, I’ll figure out the aesthetic later on
Right now I need to concentrate
That light is rightfully mine
And by the way that light is also rightfully yours
So why aren’t you twirling in the park with me?
Come join me, we’ll twirl together
We need a twirling Spotify playlist
I’m thinking a Kate Bush/FKA Twigs/Tori Amos/Billie Elish vibe
I’m tossing my head back now because that’s what people do when they twirl, at least in the movies
Though I have a bad neck so I need to be careful
What will I do when I catch the light you ask?
I will use the light to guide me down the path that I already know I’m meant to take, it’s just been too dark for me to follow
Like a fancy flashlight, the light will beautifully illuminate my way
It will also give me special powers, different than Wonder Woman’s powers, like I won’t have The Lasso of Truth
Instead, I’ll speak my truth at all times, I won’t ever make myself small, I will speak my truth even if others don’t like it
I’ll put up boundaries with ease: “sorry your energy is wack, I’m outta here”
I’ll become best friends with my anxiety and calm her the fuck down
I’ll let go of everything that doesn’t serve me, like packing lightly for a trip:
I want to be the chic woman traveling with only one carry-on bag, not the frazzled sweating woman who’s checking two oversized suitcases held together with duct tape
My light will laser-beam away old trauma, making room – so so much room – for me to thrive
I’ll use my light to help anyone in need – so long as they have love in their heart
They can plug into me and I’ll charge them – just like charging an electric car
Light-infused energy will flood their body and psyche, allowing them to live with more ease & experience more joy
Maybe I’ll create a lovely room for people to relax while they plug into me, like “I Dream of Jeannie’s” room – a circular purple velvet couch with pink satin pillows
All this to say, that if you happen to see a woman twirling in the park don’t worry
It’s just me trying to catch my light

Artwork by Daria Hlazatova. Find her on Instagram