Write Off The Page

Class of 2019 a.k.a It Only Took Me 30 Years.

I graduate from Come Back Kids Charter High School tonight. I started about 2 ½ years ago with an 8th grade education. Actually, that is a little misleading. I went to college first. I took the placement tests at Modesto Junior College and attained a little under (approx.) 100 units (I went a little crazy) and transferred to California State University Stanislaus . I’ve had a few setbacks which I won’t get into here. Those are stories for another day.

If any of you have seen the movie, Night School, you will remember a scene from the beginning where Teddy, the main character, is looking into getting his GED. He meets up with the night school teacher and she hands him a text book and he looks at it astonished and tells her that he thought it would be more pamphlet in size. Well, that sums up what I thought going to high school was going to be like. Because, hey, I had already been to college. Piece of cake.

WRONG!

High School was hard. I did get some credit for my junior college courses but only the remedial courses—the ones that didn’t count as credit toward my University transfer. I had tested into Kindergarten math (not really but close),so I had quite a few units I could use. However, as I had tested into College level English I was in for the surprise of my life. I had to take 4 years of English.  And just for the record.

I.HATE. SHAKESPEARE.

It turns out, I love Marine Science and Economics. I am pretty sure I am graduating with all A’s*. Which is a first because I am a solid B student in college. That story isn’t over yet. We shall see how well I do on the rest of my academic journey as I go for my BS in Psychology with a minor in Political Science.

But I digress from my main point. Perhaps, I am trying to hide my fear of vulnerability with stats– the minutia protecting me from this very difficult subject. You see, I kept this a secret from almost everyone in my life. There are a few people that know I was going to high school. And up to now, no one other than this close group knew that I was slated to graduate. Because, I felt such shame. I still do to some extent. There is a voice inside me that reminds me that I should have gotten my shit together a long, long time ago. However, there is a new voice that sounds suspiciously like Brene Brown’s.  This new voice is telling that old voice to shut up and sit the fuck down.

I am being brave announcing this to the world…or for the few people that will read my blog—lol.

I went to college for me. To prove that I could do it. That I wasn’t dumb and to stop the lies. I had lied for so many years, to so many people, on so many job applications. I needed to prove to myself that I was smart. College taught me how to be consistent and to show up even on the bad days. Something you don’t learn when you are homeless and living from crisis to crisis. As I tell my kids, intelligence gets you only so far. You also need perseverance, diligence, integrity, and kindness.

If I thought College was hard, I had another thing coming.

High School was a pain in my ass. There were many, many late nights after dinners, teaching, laundry… that I considered getting my GED. But, I was never good at giving up. I AM good at procrastinating. I wish I wasn’t.

My 15-year-old daughter started calling me High School Mommy and it stuck. In fact, without Tyva, I couldn’t have done it. Our Homework Club, which included my son Constantine, would start right after they got home from school and on the weekends. We would post up in the living room, small tables under our books and devices, with the tv switched to the Hallmark Channel. Mysteries, Love Stories, Christmas Movies. We watched them all while we bent over our homework. Sometimes, we would sit out on the grass if the weather was fine. No matter, we did it together. What motivated me most was watching my daughter complete Honors courses in Middle School and this year, Pre-AP and AP courses. She had hours of homework. Hours. Yet, she pushed herself and is a straight A student. I think she is the most amazing person and when I grow up I want to be just like her. Constantine is just as diligent. His course load isn’t as strenuous as Tyva’s as of yet. In elementary school he was in GATE classes which were pretty difficult. Now that he is in junior high his has honors courses and they are no joke. Yet, he maintains good grades just like his sister. With them to look up to there was no way that I could allow myself to fail.

It took me awhile to understand that there was something else that pushed me to the starting line and that kept me going to the finish. I realized mid way through this part of my journey that it was my mother that was at the heart of what I wanted to accomplish.

Her name is Julie Anne

By the time my mother was 19 she had 3 kids. I was the first. She never went past 8th grade either. She died on August 12, 1990. She never got the chance to reach her goals or attain her dreams. I went to high school because my mother couldn’t. I am graduating for my Mom. She was an ass kicker despite the fact that life had never stopped kicking her ass—right up to the night she died in a horrible car accident.

My last conversation with her was a phone call. She had just written a new song and was beyond excited because she had finally gotten the courage to leave the abusive marriage that she was in. She was going to sell her songs. She was going to make something of herself. The next night she died. My next phone call was the one telling me that she was gone-forever. I hold tightly to the memory of the last time I spent with her. We were flying through the foothills in the fall. A sea of green flashed by my window as she played two songs over and over and over again. IF I Could Walk On Water by Eddie Money and If I Could Turn Back Time by Cher. I had never been to the mountains. I had never seen the house she had bought in Twain Harte with the money from her day care business. I remember the wind blowing her hair across her face. Hair just like mine. She would glance at me and smile. I wasn’t really listening to the words to the songs that she kept replaying. I was just looking at her. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time. It was a magical ride.

Today, I listened to the songs and paid attention to the lyrics. I can’t stop crying. Because I can finally hear what she was trying to say that day.

Mom.  I forgive you. I love you.

 Today is for you.

From My Mat

I looked up at my feet. They looked tired, my toe nail polish older than my first-born child, dead skin scaling my arches, and a scratching scab revealed the fungi problem my doctor can’t solve without some weird pill that causes way too many side effects.

My eyes welled up as I shifted into the next pose. Head to knee, breath out, head back, breath in, and my shame all over me—inside. Tears flowed down into my ears and hairline and I cried out once—a sharp keening.

I’m sorry I wept, my mind’s tide rolling the images, one after the other—all of my mistakes.

I’m sorry for not coming here, to my sacred place, because it is what heals me and what scares me most.

For the Blackberry Chocolate Chip Talenti Gelato that I was sure “I will have only 5 spoonful’s…each day. “ Savoring it judiciously, the prize for being such a circumspect and whole-fully in control person. I am so sorry that, instead, despite having put it back in the freezer, that the thought of it crept into each and every moment and that finally, I consumed it and even licked the spoon like the unrepentant whore that I am. While I am at it, I am sorry for the extra mashed potatoes with the mushroom sauxe on Sunday. And the two lollipops at last week’s evening class. And for not going to the gym and oh wait…there is some other stuff too. I’m sorry for the many days I didn’t ride my bike and when I did on Sunday, for getting M to pick me up rather than ride home in the rain. I am sorry for not recycling the garbanzo beans can and for throwing the snail across the yard rather than placing it lovingly in its special snail preserve WELL AWAY FROM MY SQUASH PLANT.

My tears coursed out my shame and guilt. Through bleary eyes I saw my bare legs rough with stubble and thought about how I had considered taking pictures of my yoga routine so IG could see what a virtuous yogi I was and felt my cheeks flame at the need for such affirmation.  Then, I felt shame for the shame I felt, when I thought about why I didn’t want to take pictures of my body. Because I didn’t want anyone to think the horrible thoughts that I did, about me.

All the while I continued the flow, my breath slowing with my tears, eyes closed focusing within. Listening to my muscles. My lower back tight with sedentary sediment, my neck and shoulders stiff with money burdens, my waist tired and bloated from holding sadness. I receive each dispatch, open to the truth of each confidence. The empathy came welling up from somewhere raw and new, replying with love and care.

I slowed, moving without judgement, with patience, discarding the lofty goals and high expectations that had been set by ego. In this empty space there was light from my soul, so much wiser than my big-mouth mind.

Finishing, I rocked to seated crisscrossed position and crossed my thumbs over one another, pointing my index fingers down—assuming Ksepani Mudra also know as Uttara Bodhi. The Mudra for Letting Go. I expelled the torrent of shame, slow and steady, the current mild but not meandering.

I was left empty of all but my gratitude. Hands to heart, I thanked God and myself for being there-here-everywhere.

Morning Ride

When I was about 10 my father surprised me with a new bike.  It was replacing my old trusty companion.  A blue banana-seated partner who could tell many a tales about cold blooded games of chicken,  races down the steep hill by Little Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and the many times I secretly went farther than the corner. I had ridden old blue into extinction and my long legs had certainly outgrown it.

I had forgotten about that that Saturday morning. Likely, the last time I really had a birthday gift from my father. He had found a used ten speed, fixed it up with new parts, and painted it a deep ruby red that had gold glints that shimmered in the sun. My father was a paint salesman and the paint he had chosen was car paint and it was perfect for my new bike.

I ran to the bike and threw my leg over, quickly balancing on my tiptoes, my hands resting on the handlebars. Electricity sparked my fingers and wrists and shot through my body, forever connecting me to every bike I would ever own. My secret rides would become much farther and the speed that I could catch would have me believe I was flying.  I set out on my maiden voyage, bumping down the ridged part of the driveway, the seat much smaller and a little more invasive than my old banana seat. I turned once, my father’s face looked radiant. He seemed so proud. I didn’t realize that I had a memory of my father in a favorable light. For so long he has been mired in a murky cloud of hurt, pain, resentment, and loss. Yet, this morning, as I flew down the creek trail,  a bit of wild in the middle of Modesto, I caught the shimmer of my red bike. The cobwebs blew away from the lock box of memories, all that is left of my brief childhood. There stood my father.

He was long legged, his hands in the pockets of his Levis, a pack of Marbolo Reds peeking out of the front pocket of his button up shirt. He wasn’t a broad man, he was lithe. His skin, tanned to rugged mahogany in the summer, darker than the olive skin tone of the rest of us. His sharp cheekbones were reminiscent of a Native American man. In fact, now that I think about it, his skin color was similar as well. I am married to a Mi-Wuk man and they share the same skin color. Though, part of my family is from Sicily, far from the Native American genes that make up my husband and children’s DNA. The most remarkable part of this clear picture of my father is that morning he looked proud. His face was filled with love and youth and joy. The kind smile that played on his supple lips is in stark contrast to the cold cruelty that I have come to associate with him.

He was a stranger to me then and still is now. There are flashes of riding on his shoulders when I was little, his laughter as I squealed, and my pig tails bounced. He was 16 when I was born, my mother 14. They were babies themselves. My father had aspirations to be a baseball player and he was very good if anecdotes and my memories are accurate. However, the birth of me crushed that dream and my sisters, one a year later, and another 3 years after that- put an end to anything other than bills and long work weeks.

My parents fought so loud and so long that there is no way to mark the beginning of any one fight and the end of their marriage. The sounds and fury of those fights wove a patchwork quilt of fear that has covered my whole existence.  Their finale came when I was 5, after a particularly nasty fight involving a paycheck being flushed down the toilet and the smell of my Mother’s clothes burning in the fireplace. My forever memory of my mother will be of her back as she walked down the hot summer sidewalk and the fact that she never glanced back.

My sisters, my dad, and I moved in with my grandparents and my father became a shadow. There were impressions of where he had been and the imprint of him at night, his silhouette blotting out the hallway light. He was fleshed out by the words that grandma and grandma traded in the morning, their voices just loud enough to carry phrases over the big band music playing on the radio. New woman now. No bra. South Oakland. More money.

Grandma would say, “Wait till your father gets home. When he hears about this he is going to spank you.” And she would point to the belt that hung off the door leading into the kitchen, the one that resembled a whip because it had no buckle. That’s when Dad became color, his weariness breathing life into his existence as he dutifully grabbed the belt and spanked us for the myriad of things that we would get up to that invariably made Grandma’s life harder. His lips, a straight line and his eyes far away, he carried out his duty. And then he would leave again. And again. And again. Until one day, he left us far behind, and never came back.

But this morning as the cold air pushed through my under armor and left goosebumps on my skin, I remembered that he had given me a gift that has lasted a lifetime. Cavalcare e essere liberi. To ride is to be free. I rode everywhere. Miles and miles of riding. I rode along the bay, the smell of seaweed and salt spray playing with my long hair. I rode through the bad parts of town, and down to the shell sharp beaches of Alameda, and to rocky shore of the San Leandro Marina. I would rarely stay anywhere long, preferring the blur of the scenery, the way my thoughts skittered here and there, and far from the wreckage of my childhood.

This morning’s ride was no different. Well, my fitness level is very different. My breath coming hard and fast as I tried to attain the smooth flow that comes with hitting that sweet spot where my breath and pedaling jive. A stasis of becoming one-me, my bike, the sky, and the road.

That’s when the words come, the ideas, and the memories. It is also how I heal. The wind from my forward motion pushing the tears back into my hairline and then drying them until they are gone. This leaves space that I fill with the sight of birds in flight, the sway of tree branches, and the velvet color that green becomes on a tangle of verdant vegetation. The feel of the sun on my face, filling me up with its shine.

I stopped short of the trail end. My lack of consistent riding marked by my inability to complete the full length. I drank and the cold water gave me the shivers. Then I turned around. I was left with just enough reserve to make it back to my car. My return journey was against the wind. I was ready for it. I pushed back, digging deeper, and coasting when I needed the respite. The end of the trail is all uphill with a bridge at midpoint. I usually come up off my seat in a hallelujah to finish strong. But today, I stopped on the bridge to take a picture, and catch my breath. I thought of my Dad’s smile that birthday morning and for the first time in many, many years– I loved him.  

I Hate Regrets Even More Than I Hate Ants

This morning after a previously rescheduled school appointment and before I visited my precious #Kitkats, I took myself on an outing. I had not been on any outings for a while. A long while. I got sick just before Thanksgiving and fought that flu to the bitter end. *cough* The bitter end resides in the dry hack I have developed which has me peeing my pants at inopportune times.

I couldn’t cancel my classes, as I had already found a sub for one so that I could attend my son’s first ever Baritone concert, and only one student showed up. I didn’t want to chance that they wouldn’t show up again, so I went. Throat Coat Tea with lemon, honey, and ginger in my tea mug, the cold catching at my face as I rattled my way down the deserted school corridors, my teacher cart’s warped front end, one asphalt crack away from exploding  my materials everywhere.  This sense of obligation is not foreign, must not be, to any of my teacher friends, and certainly not to those of you out there, whom I have not met. I felt none of this altruism to any of the private sector jobs that I worked. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a passion for any of those jobs. I always take pride in everything that I do. I definitely didn’t call in unless I absolutely had to and most of my sick calls were about my kids. That, of course, wasn’t pertinent during the 13 years that I ran my cleaning business. I took my kids or I stayed home depending on the severity of the illness or my fatigue from caring for it. It was why I scrubbed toilets for a living. I could breastfeed, I could take my babies with me, and I could stay home when they needed me. Even that job saw me give the best of myself. It taught me a lot of about me, other people, and how to organize my own home. Most of my clients were genius in the ways they organized their homes. Their fridges afforded me the opportunity to see the right or wrong stuff to eat. Their linen closets showed my where and how to put my linens away. The beds showed me what order the blankets went in and how to place the pillows. I didn’t know anything of these things. Now, before you think I was snooping. I never ever did. Any place I went was because I had a task there and then used the opportunity to learn from it.

But I digress. What I really came to talk about was a conversation I had at the counter at Preservation. It is a unique little coffee shop that I have been going to since it was Serrano Social Club.  The coolest coffee shop I have ever been in. I say that with so much love. First, you must understand. I have no home base. I have no place to go where people say, oh she looks like… Or remember when she… I found friendship here. I found my tribe here. And believe me. That has been a long, hard journey. There is no drive-thru and the parking is a bitch. It forces me to walk, even when I don’t have time. It forces me to take time to just be. I rarely write there. I usually regroup. It is a place where I can always find a hug, a very good cup of coffee-made Doug’s way, which means it perfectly suits my taste and mood. It is a hub for motivated and creative people. There is always someone interesting to catch up with. It is also a place that allows me to just sit and stare out into the street, thinking my thinks. Or nothing at all. Calm comes over me. I begin to center myself, finding balance, which allows the stasis I need to write and be my best self.

At the counter today, I met up with Doug. I was being an irritating debutante, trying to determine if I wanted their eggnog latte rather than my usual-“Doug Knows”. Doug doesn’t suffer debutantes gladly, it is one of the things I love about him. Calm, unfettered by the ridiculous, and unimpressible. During this silly interchange (on my behalf)  I was enfolded in a hug. By one of my favorite people. Auni.  She is ethereal. I am not kidding. She glides rather than walks. Her countenance, a creamy visage of milk and honey with a sexy splash of red hair. Her contrast to Doug’s bearded, I am a fur trapper and friend to the Indian’s look, is very good for business. Though, it is the inside of them that attracts me. Auni’s is brown sugar with undertones of Sriracha, the amount of which depends of how much you fuck with her. I like my friends to be complex and capable. Auni is all of these things. I turned and closed my eyes, melting into her hug, accepting the goodness of it and responding with my own love and light. When she released me I looked into her big blues and saw the steadiness of her truthful personage staring back, the beginning of my centering began there.

A little backtracking. Several years ago, I went through a major transformation. A huge overhaul of my manifest destiny sans the killing of innocent people. It was about 2012 or so. It was all due in part to going to the social club. You see, I was starting to make friends, acquaintances. I was starting to feel comfortable enough to reach out, past the fear, the feelings of inadequacy, the shame I felt at cleaning houses. I was beginning the process of meeting myself and formulating the hard questions that needed to be asked of myself. One of the things that became apparent was that I couldn’t finish a sentence with any given individual without stopping and asking them if they needed to leave. Did they really want to hear what I was saying? Or even giving way to another person that would often walk up. In fact, I didn’t even give them a chance to answer. I’d stop mid sentence, ask the question, and then promptly say. “Oh, never mind. I am so sorry..” Or some such thing that would dismiss myself, my topic, my whole person as being unimportant. Because that is how I felt inside. Not because they did or said anything to warrant such behavior. And I am sure, now, that some of my conversation must have been tedious. It is why I love so many people, here, in Modesto. They have put up with the tediousness of me—in all phases of this transformation. It hasn’t been pretty. But then, I never do things pretty. I am even an ugly crier. Coincidentally. It is the longest I have lived anywhere in my life and despite my hatred for the heat and the constant of the a/c in the summer, I love it.  This blog post is not about that transformation, which is not complete, I have another blog post about that subject. Suffice it to say, it is a testament to that period of time that I am able to have such heart to heart conversations. Like the one that ensued with Auni.

We chatted about her beautiful baby. Then, I spoke of the murder that I have in my heart for the ants. I explained to her that my house is built on an ant hill, a huge one with what I envision, a mammoth queen sitting on top of a mound the breadth of my house– under my house. I can clearly see her queenly eyes smirking as she intuitively signals her next attack on parts of my house. The more inconvenient, the better, I imagine her transmitting. This time it is my bathroom. Auni, nodded and vehemently added her own thoughts on the invasions at her own home. We clicked and clacked, comfortably sharing our passion about killing them all. Though, I don’t think I mentioned my dream of killing the queen. Exploding the queen and her smirk into a million pieces because, well, I know Auni loves me but she may become afraid of me if I told her that. I mean, I feel such shame that these urges exist alongside my love of the Earth. My respect for all living things. My regular and consistent recycling and saving of spiders. But this blog post is not about my hypocrisy. OKAY?!?

That’s when the deeply private part of me decided it needed to be heard. It was probably because of those baby blues and the honesty that shines from them. I told her how hard it was to finish the last few chapters of my book. A book that has taken me four years to write. A book, that when (IF) I mention it, I always preface with an apologetic air and explanation.  Yes. I say. I was learning how to write while I wrote this novel. I rarely go into the fact that I decided to go to college, then restart college, and then go to high school while I wrote this book. That I lived through some of the most difficult time periods of my life, and that is saying something, while I was writing this book. That the transformation that took place in my soul and to my body took place while I wrote this book.  I enfold that truth behind and between the words when I over-explain myself for the millionth time about this subject. It is an apology that no one really cares about nor do they really understand or pay attention to. But Auni did. Whether she saw the sheen of tears across my pupils or heard the tremor I have learned to mask, I don’t know. But she heard and saw something that made her say…

What if you died tomorrow, Shanyn? What would you say while you were looking down? First, I just want to say (please imagine tearful eyes and an obvious tremor as I say this) my heart trembled that she assumed that I would, of course, go to Heaven. NO matter your belief, mine is obvious, the gist of that is…she thought of me as a good person. This is so valuable to me. Beyond riches, beyond power, for people to think I am good is important to me. Call it what you want and I am sure there are psychological, in fact I know there are, terms for this. I want and need people to believe that I am a good person. I won’t go into why, suffice it to say, I have lived a long life. Sometimes it feels as if I have lived a million lifetimes, that is how weary I am. And I have done a lot of things that make me sad and shameful. To be to the point that I  live my life so that people think I am good is one of the goals of my transformation.

The next and even more important part of this conversation was her belief in me and her care in responding thoughtfully. Because this attention, this address, this conversation got me thinking. If I died tomorrow, what have I done to change the world for the better?  And does it,finally, outweigh the bad that I have done? Have I earned my existence on this plane? The same one that so many amazing people have inhabited and altered with their feats of good? The answer is not easily forthcoming and the few tidbits that stream amongst the detritus of thought in my head do not seem enough. Not nearly enough.

I know every act of kindness I have performed. For I have intentioned each one. Because, I know every act of unkindness, perpetrated by me and observed by me.  This question is deeper than finishing this book, though, finishing this book is important. The question, begging to be answered by actions, needs attention.

I thanked her, while the synapses sparked and zapped, and I went to sit in the window facing the street. I drank my coffee, the eggnog latte I decided, by making Doug wait far too long and that I hoped had a splash of somethin’ somethin’ beside the nog. It didn’t but a girl can hope. I said I am transforming, I didn’t say I was an angel. I will NEVER EVER be perfect. I will always have more than my fair share of vices, pettiness, and useless vitriol.

I propped my legs up on a chair, ignored The Paris Review I had intended to finish, and looked through the people passing by. The bottom of my cup became visible and I knew that it was time to go. Finish the book. Finalize the questions. And then go about asking them. The answers will be what make the rest of my life worth living.

The Best Intentions

It turns out that it is much harder than I thought to build a site and write my very first Finally Friday blog post…all in one day. I had wanted it to be just in time for Mother’s Day, a particularly difficult holiday for me…But.

But, there was a mix up at GoDaddy which meant that domain mapping couldn’t be completed. A fancy name for writing some numbers into 3 fields, which then points my domain name to WordPress. But pointing name servers couldn’t be done because no one could find my domain name. *Insert pretend scream.* To keep my mind off things as I waited I took deep breaths, drank water, watched stupid t.v., and scrolled through twitter reading stupid and horrifying political posts.

But, while in the middle of one of my numerous customer service phone calls, I received a very bad, no good, horrible kind of text with terrible news. Which, I will keep to myself for the moment because I am still thrashing it around my head and my heart is trying to figure out what to do with news.

But, I came down with the flu that I picked up from chaperoning a Band Trip to Disneyland. Note to self: Do not do that again.

But, the cursor is blinking on my Mother’s Day story and I have to go slice some ginger and lemon, twirl some honey onto a spoon, and drop it all into a mug to await the whistle of the kettle, because my throat hurts–from arguing with the kids about cleaning the entry way.

But, that’s another story.

I hope my intentions are up to the road blocks.