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Posts from the ‘Betsy Lewis’ Category

Surprising state of affairs

“Strange New World” by Betsy Lewis

I have a date this week — with a man.

This surprising state of affairs occurred because the 63-year-old me dropped the ball recently and left the job of running my life to the 20-year-old me. In my absence, I find that the 20-year-old has done a fair amount of remodeling of my body and soul. It was she who set up this date.

The 20-year-old made her reappearance in my life recently when my old boyfriend from 43 years ago came back into my life. It was a tumultuous reunion and, from the outside, it looked like the whole thing ended badly. However, there were some significant things that were healed for me, and the support of a few special friends kept me sane.

So, now that the 20-year-old has tasted freedom — and liked it, she has decided to stay for a while. I have her on a short leash for the time being, but the truth is, it’s felt good having her back.

SHE. IS. FUN. She is also energetic, optimistic, smart, idealistic, earnest, intense, and creative.

She has me running on the track again — and liking it. She has me cutting out sugar and blending green drinks. She has me whittling down my body, so I can physically keep up with her.

She makes me happier than I have felt in a long time and I can see that embodying her is essential to living out my creative potential with the years I have left.

When I asked her what a creative life would look like to her, she made this list:

DANCE, run, walk, hike, create art, try new art mediums, workshops, classes, learn new skills, explore new places, EXPERIMENT, WRITE, publish the Walkabout Diaries, make creative friends, practice compassion, find someone to love, get art out into the world, organize art shows, self-exploration, conversations over COFFEE, deep sharing with friends, CELEBRATE everything, see more of the world,  COLLABORATE with artists, start a writing group, do scary (but mostly safe) things, MUSIC, Play, Be in water.

The 20-year-old, unfortunately, can also be reckless, self-critical, overly trusting, and sometimes lacks judgement.  It is a little disconcerting to the 63-year-old me who had all but settled down for the long slow slide into dementia — but now has a 20-year-old to manage.

The first time around her 20s this lovely girl got the joy kicked out of her.  But as a friend pointed out — what could be better than the wisdom of a 63-year-old and the joie de vivre of a 20-year-old — combined in one person.

We could be a force.

And this time around, she has someone to protect her magic.

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I.AM.BACK.

Over 10 years ago I cut most men from my life because of a violent act against me. I have sheltered those years in the healing arms of my women friends and was lucky enough to get excellent trauma therapy and support.

What was once personally a bonfire is now cold, dead and burnt out. I have slowly begun to add good men back in. I have been reminded of the sweetness, generosity and richness men bring to my life.

Here’s a counterpoint for you – below is a link to a video of the best of men – the love between a father and son. It truly is a balm if you are feeling beaten down right now.

With everything else that has been changing for me lately, when I woke up this morning, I knew that the Ford/Kavanaugh hearing was another turning point for me. This morning I could feel a huge energy rising up — within myself and energetically from the mass of others out there feeling the same.

What I want to say is this: I may have been weakened, beaten down and broken for awhile, but I have survived and — I. AM. BACK.

https://klipland.com/video/just-released-andrea-bocelli-haunting-duet-with-son-is-bringing-everyone-to-tears

Andrea Bocelli and Son, Matteo

Popeye and the illusions that save us

When I was a little girl, I loved the TV cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye was a crusty old sailor who rose above his lot in life to fight for justice, rescue the girl and generally save the day. His secret power was spinach. He got a boost of heroic energy when he consumed a can of spinach – sometimes inhaling it in through the pipe, perennially hanging from his mouth.

Popeye had a theme song — a memorable nonsensical tune. (I’ve posted the lyrics below.)

The child (me) who loved Popeye was, unfortunately, often burdened by adult responsibilities — with no clue how to carry them out. Despite this, I was optimistic and resourceful — with an imperative to survive. Illusions of powerful super heroes are fortifying when one is as young and powerless as I was.

For example, I knew if I could just get my hands on one of those cans of spinach, I too could be able and strong and my problems (shame and confusion at my incompetence) would be forever over.

When I grew up and entered the work-a-day world, I felt called to the field of social justice. Back then, my illusion was the adult version of believing I could save the world. It amuses me now to think that it might have been Popeye the Sailor Man setting me on this path.

I do not remember my mom serving us spinach often, if at all. I do have a vague memory of being offered spinach once, but not in a can (like Popeye), and feeling angry and disappointed. It was obvious to me that the can was essential for the power, and the spinach by itself was yucky.

I do remember the exact moment when I realized Popeye wasn’t real. I was in a library arguing about it with a taller child  — who I could see was making a lot of sense, and as I walked away, the truth sunk in. It was bound to happen. It was like losing Santa Claus.

I have shed a lot of fantasies and illusions as the years have gone by. The romantic ones were the hardest. (Those are stories for another time and a bottle of wine.)

Today, at age 62, I am uncomfortably having to coexist with hard truths about our leaders, my fellow citizens and the humanity of the world in general.

It is in my dreams, however, where I experience the ultimate falling away of illusion and encounter the abject terror of being a soft small vulnerable mammal on a ravaged planet in an incomprehensible universe.

The truth can be cleansing and invigorating, but it can also be painful — like standing in an ice-cold shower.

I am harboring the illusion now – that it is this truth that will set me free.

 

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

I’m strong to the finich

Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

I’m one tough Gazookus

Which hates all Palookas

Wot ain’t on the up and square.

I biffs ’em and buffs ’em

And always out roughs ’em

But none of ’em gets nowhere.

 

If anyone dares to risk my “Fisk”,

It’s “Boff” an’ it’s “Wham” un’erstan’?

So keep “Good Be-hav-or”

That’s your one life saver

With Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man,

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

I’m strong to the finich

Cause I eats me spinach.

I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.

 

Drawing the world in closer and truer to myself

Last week I made an energetic shift to the good. The world was a beautiful place. I felt confident and grounded. I patted myself on the back for doing all the personal growth work that led to this result. I had arrived!

Fast forward one week. I find myself googling apocalyptic art.

I feel scratchy and irritable. I am taking things personally; blaming, grumbling and complaining. I feel prickly, fragile, impatient and judge-y. I am two pieces of sandpaper rubbing together.

Try as I might, I can not summon the enlightened person I was the week before.

To add insult to injury, I hate myself for being this way. I am ashamed.

Is this then who I really am? Have I not learned anything in my long life? I see others meeting grave losses with grace and love. Right now, I have no love for even the simplest challenges. I have achieved nothing.

To escape, I watch British detective dramas – murder mysteries. Their simple formula is comforting. If there are interesting characters, they become my world for awhile. I like it there. I want to live there. The good guys prevail by solving the murder puzzle. The bad guys are identified and caught and, in the end, justice is done.

Justice – that is the happy ending I long for, and what feels so elusive in my life and in the real world.

I am going to be 62 years-old in August. As a survivor of childhood trauma, I know I have lost some of the years of a lifespan that was my birthright. They say people like me can die 20 years earlier than people without childhood trauma. I want to make some headway in healing my trauma with the time I have left — toward justice, if at all possible. I want to at least be on my way.

In a prayer and contemplation meditation group today, I felt rebellious. There we sat, a group of privileged white women, in a safe place with no fear about where our next meal was coming from, where we were going to sleep at night or whether a bomb was going to be dropped on us at any moment.

I decided that I was going to deliberately THINK and I wasn’t going to go “back to my breath” or “my word.”

For 20 minutes I thought hard about children in war-torn lands. Children who have lost their parents and relatives and are themselves at risk of dying every day. In my mind’s eye, I saw them crouching in dirty ragged clothes, protectively clutching their younger siblings against them. I saw their huge round frightened eyes.

I communed with those children. And as I write this, I realize that I feel more of a kinship with them than with the group of women around me.

My early life was a war torn country too.

My thoughts also wandered to where my dreams sometimes go – to a fire ravaged, smokey, grey post-apocalyptic landscape of destruction. I saw myself as a “skinless creature” – a crippled skeleton – as fragile as ash. Just one light touch – a single puff of air – would demolish me.

Some days, like today, I know that the “veil” between this skeleton and myself has thinned. Little things can hit me with a destructive power  – a criticism, a jostle, a grimace.

I am not really sure any of us are free of our version of it. We all have been wounded in some way. Jungian analyst, Duncan Carpenter, coined the words “the skinless core” to refer to this, our most exquisitely sensitive, unprotected and vulnerable inner self.

I know that this ash skeleton is part of my “skinless core” and, quite likely, my unseen traumatized self from my childhood.

Try as I might, I can not transcend or escape her. It seems no amount of meditating, crystal gazing, spa days or ice cream will soothe her.

It dawns on me what I can do.

I CAN witness her, commune with her, never forget her, see her truth, and give her a taste of the validation and justice she did not receive from the adults so many years ago in her childhood.  I CAN offer concern, reassurance, attention, empathy, and kindness. I can take her seriously.

Of course when I use the word “her”, I mean “me”.  As fragile as she is, I recognize that she is truly my own savior, part of the my growing personal imperative to draw my world in closer and truer to myself.

I will not wish her away anymore.

 

 

 

 

 

The teacher who saved my life

Beginning violin - Age 8

Betsy Lewis ~ Age 8

My family had significant challenges when I was growing up. I was the oldest of 4 kids and when I was 12, we lost our mother. My father was completely overwhelmed with the job of taking care of us, especially since he needed to work long hours to keep his new business afloat.

That’s when I stepped in to take up the slack and when my childhood mostly ended.

Despite my best efforts to run the household, I regularly fell short. I naturally didn’t know what or how to do things and I took it as a personal failing. My father seemed grateful for my help, but no one told me that this was an impossible job for a 12 year-old. Even today, I work on letting go of shame when I don’t know how to do something or when I fail.

There was one steady adult in my life then — my violin teacher, MaryAnn Butler. She also had a busy life as a wife and mother of four children. She ran a home business teaching violin and piano, and she played violin with the Livermore Symphony Orchestra.

MaryAnn talked to my father and started giving me free lessons — since we could no longer afford them. Later, she hired me to babysit, so I had some spending money. She made me a 2nd violin in the symphony orchestra — picking me up by car every week and driving me to and from practices and performances for 5 years without fail. She also made sure I got music scholarships for college.

She seemed to believe in me and never gave up. This, despite the fact that I was not a good student or violinist, had a terrible musical ear, rarely practiced, and was too anxious to play at her recitals.

Truth be told, I got no joy from music or playing music. My life was simply too stressful — to feel. I am sure I clung to the violin because I knew that each week I could go to a place with a caring adult holding space just for me, who showed me how to do things I didn’t know how to do and didn’t give up on me when I failed.

MaryAnn and I lost touch over the years. From my perspective now, at age 61, I deeply regret this. In a recent Google search, I discovered that she had died at 71 of cancer. I also found comments from other former students confirming that she had done, for many many other kids, what she had done for me.

MaryAnn was a teacher, and teachers do things like this for kids all the time. But, you don’t have to be a teacher, or even in a profession geared to kids, to change their lives for the better.

NPR recently ran a story of a barber who managed to fit in support for kids in his daily work by giving a $2 discount on haircuts to kids who read a book to him in the chair: ( How The Barber, And Other Caring Adults, Help Kids Succeed.)

NPR also cited a study that found “for every 1 percent increase in the adult-to-youth ratio in a given community, there was a 1 percent decrease in the rate of young people dropping out before graduating high school.”

Astoundingly, it doesn’t take much. Simply having more grownups around is pretty powerful!

And maybe you only need to do one thing to make a big difference.

Which leads me to ask the question of myself and of you.

Is there a way we busy adults can carve out just a little bit of extra space for a child in our daily life or work?

I stopped playing the violin soon after graduating from college, but I think MaryAnn would be happy to know that, at age 50, I bought myself a cello and found that I actually had developed a musical “ear” and found joy in making and listening to music.

This was her legacy to me, discovered many years after my lessons ended. Deep gratitude to MaryAnn!

On Being Ordinary

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This seems harsh, but it gave me a kick in the pants that it is possible to change my attitude sometimes. And really there is not one thing wrong about my life right now that would lead me to feel miserable!

 

I intended, at the start of my walkabout several years ago, to write my story frequently. What I found is that writing is hard for me. I get too perfectionist about it. So starting now I am writing just for myself — and I forgive myself in advance for typos and nonsense. You are welcome to read along if you wish, but nothing is guaranteed!

Last year I read an article that reported that most of us have a better opinion of ourselves than the facts would appear to support. We think we are all around better people than we actually are.

Which got me thinking about self-esteem.

Growing up, I had very poor self-esteem. A few bad things interfered with what could have been a blissful childhood, and for a good while, the only sense I could make of it was that something was wrong with me. I felt that way in high school – less worthy, almost less human — than the other students.  Many were taking off for trips to Europe. I knew that would never happen for me. I wasn’t upset. I was resigned to my lot in life. I knew I would never see the Eiffel Tower (which felt like the epitome of achievement at the time).

Still, a small ember of self-esteem burned deep within me. I did not picture myself working behind the counter at Woolworths. I felt I should go to college. Although my family was poor, a disastrous mess and no one was encouraging me  – I did just that.

As I’ve gotten older, managed to survive many challenges, picked up life experience and been supported by many people — my self-esteem has soared. I feel good about myself — maybe too good – at least according to this article.

I know for a fact that, the only thing I am really better at than most, is hand-eye coordination (I’m in the top 1%). This has been verified by testing I put myself through during my divorce. (Don’t ask) It explained why I have always been really good at catching things!

Otherwise, I was average in all tested categories  – except that I failed solving mathematical word problems. But that was because, at this point in the testing, I crossed my arms and refused to participate. That probably brought my score down. They were not giving out points for having boundaries.

Both “Super Great Betsy” and “Completely Unworthy Betsy” are not the real story.

I am no better or worse than everyone else. Comparing myself to myself, I am perhaps wiser now, but my cognitive skills are clearly slipping.

I am ordinary.

Don’t knock ordinary. Where I come from, it’s an honor to be part of the club of ordinary human-beings. There is also a freedom in claiming my ordinariness. Mostly now, I am doing things just for myself – because they make me happy. Like this blog. (I do hope someday my children will read it and know me in a different way.)

I can relax. No need to keep proving myself. More and more any standards are changing into MY standards.

Simply getting to live to see another day – feels like quite an achievement – and perfectly ordinary.

 

Brave little girls, big sisters and beach angels

Bandon Beach Labyrinth

Bandon Beach ~ May 2015

Walking on Bandon’s beach last week, I remembered another day at this same beach — some 20 years ago. There was the same ominous heavy moist grayness, the same biting wind and moaning fog horn, and the same super low tide – which left a wide sandy beach covered in a thin glassy sheen of water. Rock outcroppings, usually underwater, were left high and dry, revealing damp caves and passageways.

20 years ago my husband, myself and our two kids were here on a family vacation. Our daughter, Hailey, was six years old. At the beach, this high-spirited little girl turned into an exuberant water nymph, kicking and frolicking at the edge of the waves. She was in her element and I always breathed a sigh of relief because, finally, here was a wild energy that matched her own.

Our son, Kai, was a new walker — a sweet chubby toddler — who we had thoroughly bundled up against the elements. He was happily walking along, with stiff arms and legs, as best he could.

With so much space and a long view, we relaxed and gave the kids free rein to run around.

But when we turned around — Kai had disappeared.

We heard Hailey screaming from a short way down the beach. Next we saw our beautiful fearless daughter plunge into a deep moat circling a large rock and fish little Kai out by his coat collar, dragging him onto the sand. He had gone in over his head – and sunk like a rock.

We ran over, bundled up our two soggy kids in beach towels and carried them up to the car. For a moment, our eyes met — sharing a silent terror – the grim knowledge that, had Hailey not seen Kai, we might not have found him in time.

This is not one of those stories that you laugh about later on. This is the story that you don’t want to remember because it leaves you chilled to the bone with “what ifs?”

Hailey is now 26 years old, a mother herself, and Kai is 21. I had happily walked this beach many times since that family vacation, but on this day I felt weighed down and traumatized. Perhaps it was the similarity in the weather or the season — or maybe even the actual anniversary. They say the body remembers these things and you never know what your subconscious has in mind for you.

I thought about the people I have known who had lost a child. I thought about the premature dissolution of that little family we were back then. The losses and traumas just seemed to pile up. I wondered how any of us can go on.

At one point, I came upon a sand labyrinth, expertly drawn in the sand. The words “Enter Here” with an arrow invited me in, so I stood at the entrance, quieted myself and began slowly walking. By the end of my walk, my dismal mood had turned to sobbing.

I cried for that scary day 20 years ago. I also cried for an even more ancient time when I was a child – a new big sister too – and had been unable to save my little brother from suffering.

I cried for all the times I had been powerless to help those I loved. I cried for the collapse of our little family, and the many times since, that their father and I had let our kids down. I cried for the times we hadn’t been there or done the right thing – or even known what the right thing was. I cried for my lost dreams of how things should have been. I cried because when we failed, it had hurt the two people I care for most in the world.

And also I cried because I was tired of being strong and brave. I was tired of being the one who carried this burden alone – the one who was blamed for everything.

The labyrinth builders, two women and a man, – unknown and nameless, but angels just the same – came up to me. I told them the story of the near drowning of my baby, just the tip of the iceberg, and they took turns hugging me as I cried.

We cannot plan these things consciously – these steps along to healing our life. They come when they do – if we give them the attention and the opportunity. I no longer believe I am to be blamed for everything. I know I cried for the person I was who used to believe that.

I meant to take a simple walk on a beach. Now I recognized it as another step toward the freedom I had been seeking when I first set off on this walkabout.

A freedom I am just beginning to taste.

A little research led me to the website of Denny Dyke, who I believe is the labyrinth maker on Bandon Beach: http://onepath.us/

 

 

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