I was speaking publicly the other day about a level of willingness to show up and be as fully present as I can be in my life today.
I show up these days, and I am willing to do it exactly as I am. The mask and the artifice and all of those carefully spackled up cracks, the work I’ve put in to that for so many years, is effort I direct elsewhere now.
As I felt a spark ignite in my spirit in speaking those words aloud. Yet, even as I felt them grow warm and sweet within me, I already knew what would happen. I released those words deliberately anyway and I let them go like a rush of scattering embers to catch where they would. As I spoke to them, I knew I’d be misunderstood. I felt a rush of freedom anyway.
I was right. Not five minutes after sitting down a well-meaning soul came up to me and sweetly said she wished I’d used a different word about myself than ugly. She timidly and tremulously suggested a few alternatives. I smiled at her encouragingly as she spoke, but the truth is I had already left her there. I left that room and went inside of myself.
Should I change that word? Should I change any of those words? I reflected. And she had no idea I’d even left.
Over the last few years, I’ve been forced out into an awakening. Some of it is just the fabulousness that happens to some women as they mature into self-possessed wisdom infused beings of feminine grace. And some of it has come from facing my life head on as it has come. Without gloves. Without padding.
Whatever has brought me here doesn’t matter. The fact is that I have had to by necessity come out of a state of dormant hiding that I’d lingered over for a long time. I’ve had loss, I’ve also experienced tragedy. I know the differences in surviving loss and tragedy. I know the differences between those experiences quite intimately.
I’ve had difficulty and challenges. And, like everybody, I’ve had to show up to all of it—somehow. While that makes me no different than any other human being on earth, it is true that for me in my particular set of circumstance, that my nice girl simply had to die. She had to die a big fat ugly bludgeoning death. She had to then be ringed in a vivid chalk outline to remind me where she once lay. To put it simply, I had been shoved up against one too many walls. That nice girl, she had to go.
One piece in her final curtain call came in a Gulfport Hooters parking lot as I sat sobbing my heart out. Yes, I said Hooters. Yes. I do mean the place with the push up bras and the chicken wings. Yep, hula hoops. Yes, Hooters. And, stick with me, because from such inauspicious roots came for me personally a moment of sublime goofy-sweet country zen.
I’d been in Mississippi for days, though I had lost track of time. I’d been moving in some sort of shock and awe fog when my phone rang. I answered it. It was the first and last call I accepted on that trip. A soft and lovely voice asked me “How are you?”
Now, if she’d told me I was an asshole who was reaping everything I’d ever sewn or if she had asked me how anyone else was, I would have instantly told her that she was absolutely right. I was an asshole, I planted it, and I absolutely deserved it all! I would have probably assured her that everything was fine; smiled woodenly never having blinked once and hung up.
I probably also would have remained blanketed in that thick cottony shock. But, for whatever reason the tiny profound shattering sound of the spoken word you caught me utterly by surprise. I opened my mouth and tried to answer, instead I disintegrated on the spot. Because I was suddenly overwhelmingly devastated, and I’d not even once asked myself how I was.
Suddenly I was moving as if through quicksand avoiding boobs and pitchers of beer and hula-hoops and platters of wings and things, trying to get out of the restaurant. I was crying so hard I couldn’t see.
I made my way to a curb outside and sat bawling as a small group of bikers pulled in all around me. For a moment, I couldn’t hear my friend as the bikes rumbled up so I sat sobbing and babbling and blowing snot bubbles wretchedly into the phone. The tough looking rumble fish gang of the Hospitality State averted eyes and scattered like gazelle hurrying around me, murmuring excuse me ma’am as they moved past.
I spoke with the soft voice on the phone. I told her something about not understanding how I got there. Why was I there? I remember talking about how I couldn’t understand what had happened. I out wept the Mississippi rain.
I have no idea what else I said on that call. But, when it was ended I had changed. It was not the content of the phone call; it was the awakening that had happened. I remained where I was, gathering myself up in slow deep breaths.
A couple of late straggling Harley Davidson’s pulled up and cut their engines. I sat ignoring them. But, one man paused in front of me as he took his gloves off and put them in his saddlebags and said “You be blessed now, ma’am” I looked up swiftly and stared at him grappling with the absurdity of it all, before I finally said dumbly “It’s raining again, you know. It’s pretty stupid here.” He looked at me and flashed a big wide-open and friendly grin before he said, “Yes, baby, it is. Did somebody tell you to stay outside in it or did you come up with that idea all by yourself?” and he waggled his eyebrows outrageously and winked before he walked away.
I whipped my head around and stared after him with my mouth gaping. Wondering like I had for probably the ten thousandth time how these people could slide so slow drip drawling buttery smooth from ma’am to baby and blessings; how could they not know you’re not supposed to call women baby like the rules are in progressive states like mine, when—-Pop! Zen in a Hooters parking lot. A bolt of light flashed through my head. I was done sitting in it. I throttled the shit out of my nice girl.
Because suddenly I knew that there was nothing in me that had led her here. Nothing. There was nothing about it that was of me. So what the hell was I doing in a Mississippi Hooters parking lot drenched to the bone; bawling into a phone? I still have no answer for that, by the way, except that it was the nearest place to my hotel; and it seemed like it might be a hilarious story to tell someday. And, you know, wings, people—come on, they’re pretty damn good. But really, what the hell was I doing there?
Parts of it are clearer now. For one thing, I was beginning to listen to the cry inside of myself. In spite of them, in spite of anyone, no matter how deeply I have loved; it needed to be my turn. I was beginning right then to embrace my dirty, sweaty, ugly.
So, that’s how it’s been moving since then. I got up from the curb and I began doing things differently. Slowly at first and gently picking up speed as I have moved. I follow through on my responsibilities, but I guard much more carefully my right to be. I’m not sleeping through my life anymore. I’m curious and always have been. But, for whatever reason, I’ve been half sleeping for years. I’ve been busily entertained by my responsibilities to others. And, I’ve kinda half assed it and generally I’ve sucked moderately, at all of it. I’ve wiped counter tops and tried not to rock the boat. When it turns out that I have secretly wanted to jiggle at least one damn boat!
My back knocking hard against that final wall shook something alert—tragedy, loss, challenges, and difficulties; when it finally got personal enough, I woke up. I have decided that I want to see things, touch things, taste things, and experience things. I want to climb things and get way up high so I that can see other things! I want to poke at stuff. If a sign says do not touch, my finger’s coming back wet with paint. I want to read about this; and I want to try that! I want to win! I want to see what I suck at. I want to suck at some things so bad that I gain appreciation for the things I’m good at!
I want to drive it with the top down. I want to lean way in and sniff deeply of the luxury rich buttery soft leather of a new car scent! I want to tackle something. No, no, I mean physically pad up, tear across a field, and tackle something. I want to build it up, and break it down. Put it back together again. I want to surprise myself with what I can do. I want to do the twelve-mile loop!
I want to do it all as it crosses my mind and I want to wrap the experiences around my very skin, taste it on the tip of my tongue, and savor it. I want to then ask myself shall I do that again or not?
My own right to be is emerging screaming in me. It’s not negotiable. I’m not open to second opinion or revision when I am defining who it is that I am. Nobody gets to edit me.
Dirty, sweaty, ugly are the perfectly right words. No, there’s not a single one I’d change. I work hard and I show up. I show up just as I am. It’s not always pretty. It’s not ever perfect. Sometimes I’m truly uncomfortable and sometimes I’m outright scared silly. Sometimes I’m physically quivering with it! And sometimes it becomes the most beautiful splash of ugly that I’ve ever seen.
I’m climbing mountains and doing squats and pushups and hiking the trails. And, if you join me there, you’ll see me proudly showing off the sweat tracks streaked in the dirt of my accomplishments. If you don’t quickstep I’ll move past you in a puff of trail dust. And, I’ll probably be describing it all in a bubbling blast of happy blue cuss words sent ringing down the mountainside.
I’m learning a ton about what I’m good at. I’m good at encouraging and loving people, who will let me love them. I can make amends out of what’s left of my life by loving the people who will let me love them. I’m good at making connections and connecting others. I take on causes and I cheerlead. I believe in good things; even in the middle of outrageous amounts of challenging bullshit. I’m gonna slog through it all with you, if you will let me; and I believe in purpose from the ashes of all things. I believe in the sharing of experience, strength, and hope.
I learned that I suck at bowling! Holy cat shit Batman, do I suck. But, I enjoy the risk! The shoes are dubious looking and soggy, and the fries look every bit as risky; but I dig in anyway. The friendships are great.
In fact the friendship of the gentle voice on the phone from that day in the parking lot, greets me every Tuesday league night at the Fun Bowl. She asked me to join as I sat bawling in the rain alone so many progressive states from home. I don’t really recall saying yes. I am told with something bordering on glee that I answered words to the effect of “Well, ok, sure! That’s a fucking fabulous godammned beautiful redneck thing to do, sign me up!”
And, so I show up there too, even having learned that I suck at bowling. I learned that I am good at sharing my fries and showing up.
And, here’s the thing about it all, I am also learning what it is to be me. I allow myself to pick up things and try them out. If they’re not a good fit, I can put them back down. It’s perfectly ok! I give myself permission to be. My beauty is not at question; I simply do not wear it on something as thin and flimsy as my external skin. It’s deeper and stronger and tougher than that.
It’s tough enough to shine right through my dirty, sweaty, ugly. It’s my beauty. It is my turn to define what that is. Nobody else has to see it the way I do. I will feel, see, do, and describe everything; and I will keep my promises to the people I love. I will love the people who will let me love them and I will also live my life. But, one thing I will not allow anymore is the softening of my voice nor the blurring of my words. I will define myself in any way that I choose.
I drifted back into my skin as the sweet woman who had urged me to not say ugly trailed softly off. I smiled genuinely. I said “No, I don’t think I’m going to change my words. They are exactly what I meant to say. I’m dirty, sweaty, and ugly sometimes; and I really enjoy that! Thank you for your concern, but no, I know what I meant. They are the most freeing and beautiful words I’ve ever said. Nobody else has to understand. I’m comfortable with that” and I moved out of the door.
I felt the sunlight on my shoulders and the breeze streaming through my hair. There was no rain, not in my progressive state. Just the breeze, so different from the hot raging winds of change that I’ve been screaming in. A good soft gentle breeze that I had emerged and found myself standing quite beautifully in.