Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Like It, Love It, Yes I Do

I, a married woman, spent last weekend in Phoenix, in the company of three men.  We had been planning this little get-away for about a month, and it finally came together.  The excitement had been building, and after a long dusty drive through the desert, we arrived, ready to get down to business.

Previous liaisons had occurred hurriedly in a crowded room in L.A. for which we paid by the hour, but now we were in the comfort of someone's home, with nothing but space and time stretching out before us.

Despite having done this since my teen-age years, I still get the anticipatory jitters, and I brought along some fine tequila.  Several shots later, and small talk over, we started what we came there to do.  There was no turning back, no guilt, no shame.

It didn't matter to us if the neighbors heard us; the louder the better.  We gave each other performance feedback, and sometimes had to do it a couple of times to get it right.  Soon we were sweaty and smiling, and had to take a break, because none of us are as young as we used to be.  In fact, one of us had to stop and take a nap, while the rest went outside, unplugged from our devices, and carried on some more.

Sex and drugs?  No.  Rock and roll?  Oh hell yes.

I know,  it's only rock and roll but god I love it.

I just joined this standing group a few months ago, and I can't tell you how much fun it is.  I have been singing in the car and at home forever, but not in a band since graduate school.  The synergy of playing together is an absolute joy.

I do feel the tiniest bit conflicted about pursuing this.  It is at its core absolutely selfish and hedonistic.  With my writing pursuit, I can tell myself that while it is a personal passion, it is also because I hope that ultimately others are touched in some beneficial way by reading it.  With the band, it is just because we can, because it is fun, because it feels good.  No one else usually hears it, and it does take time away from other important people and pursuits, so I do appreciate the forbearance of my family more than I can say.

But singing makes my spirit sing, and that can't ever be a bad thing.  I believe we are better people, and act more loving and tolerant as a result, when we allow ourselves the full measure of what gives us joy, and exercise our talents.  Mine is a quite minor and limited talent (and my son would probably argue,  no talent at all, having had to suffer through countless nights of Rock Band).   Nevertheless, I guess  it's kind of like that hackneyed sentiment: sing like no one is listening, and dance as if no one is watching.  How good or bad I am is not the point.  It is me, being me.

If I want to play rock star, why the hell not?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Poem for Turning 55

Well, I have not been on my little blog site since September, so thought it was time to post something I have been working on over the past week.  Still a work in progress.  I originally was going to title it What My Hot Flashes Teach Me,  then changed it to Morning Mirror, now it is just untitled for the moment.

Domain without dominion,                                                

this body as I age.                                                           

I startle at my reflection,                                                

in recognition of                                                           

a “me-ness” that abides within that cage                       

no longer new.                                                           

What a breath-stopping moment

as I become aware

that memories now stretch  longer than

the road which lies ahead. 

Exhaling, holding my own gaze, I stare:

no longer young.    

Yet passions long neglected

need nothing but a choice.

Ancient desire and nascent fire,

inchoate, they arise,

seek form, and now demand to have a voice,

no longer mute.

Sight will dim and sinew thin

as bars of cage must rust.

But in this moment, in this breath

is all.  Enough.  Today

I write the poem of pulse, before the dust.

No longer lost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Tribute to My Dad

My dad would have been 86 today.  He died four years ago.  I came across the eulogy I wrote a couple of days ago, and thought I would post it here in his honor.

Eulogy for My Dad

Paul E. Hamilton  9/18/26 – 9/4/08
Services  9/9/08

Thank you all for being here to remember and honor my father.

I want to start by acknowledging some family members who weren’t specifically mentioned in the obituary.  Family is not just blood ties – it is relationships forged by marriage and friendship as well.  With that in mind, I want to acknowledge Archie Parris, my dad’s brother-in-law through his deceased sister, Betty Lou, and my aunt and uncle Betty and Buddy Pace, my mom’s sister and her husband.  I especially want to thank you, Aunt Betty and Uncle Buddy, for being there for my dad before and after my mom died, for all your help and love.

My father was a great man.  His was not the noisy kind of greatness marked by power, popularity or prestige, but the quiet kind of greatness composed of conscientiousness, kindness and compassion.  It was who he was, and how he lived his life.

My earliest memories of my dad are of him in military uniform, khakis or dress blues, standing tall, solid and strong.  He was, and is, my hero.  He always took the time to listen, he was always there when I needed him.  He taught me so many things – how to drive a car, how to put a worm on a hook, how to make oatmeal and southern green beans, how to sing “You Are My Sunshine,” how to hold my tongue and have patience, and how to believe in myself and my abilities.

He showed me the best model possible of what a man, a husband, a father should be, and for that I am eternally grateful.  I chose a husband with many of the same wonderful qualities, and try to instill in his grandson the same.

Those of you who knew Paul from childhood and adolescence know parts of him that I know only from stories told.  I know he loved his family, hunting, his hound dogs.  I have heard a few tales about youthful escapades, and stills in the hills, and working hard at the mills.

His years in the military defined and described so much of who Dad was.  He was so smart and organized, so thorough and conscientious, and these qualities allowed him to succeed and win numerous accolades and promotions.  He loved his assignment working with the color guard attached to Air Force One under Eisenhower, and using his cryptography skills during the Cold War.  Dad was extremely punctual too (a quality I sadly lack, although he would be pleased I was uncharacteristically on time today).  He was so punctual in fact that I remember he and I arrived about 45 minutes early for a party out of town, but happily our host didn’t mind.

Dad was a hard worker, with the kind of work ethic that defines most men of his generation.  When he retired from the Air Force during the recession of the 70’s, I know now that it was a hard time for him, but he never complained.  In fact, he took the opportunity to return to school and pursue one of his talents and passions, horticulture, obtaining an associate’s degree.  Dad was amazing with plants; we had a vegetable garden in our back yard that bore fruit for us and the whole neighborhood. 

In the meantime, he and Mom formed their very successful partnership as antique dealers.  Mom did the schmoozing and wheeling and dealing; Dad characteristically was the quieter behind-the-scenes partner, refinishing furniture, organizing and planning.  They had so much fun together in the business, and I’m happy they had that time together before my Mom got sick.

Dad was also exceptionally devout in his faith, through the years donating his time and money to the Church and related charitable causes.  He was equally devoted as a son, son-in-law, brother, husband and father.

I have never known anyone more committed to the well-being of those he loved, giving of his time and effort, caretaking all those he cared about, lending a hand to anyone who needed help, or an ear to anyone with a worry.  His quiet devotion to my mom through her lengthy illness and disability was amazing, and a constant challenge to me to aspire to my better self.

Of course, Dad would be embarrassed by these words of praise because he was also incredibly modest, understated, and private.  This is, I think, an extension of his deeply embedded sense of right and wrong; not that he was judgmental, but that he just lived by  the Golden Rule, treating others as they would wish to be treated.  Therefore, doing the right thing would not be seen as remarkable or even to be remarked upon.  It was simply expected.

Now, despite all by Dad’s noble qualities, despite the fact that he is, in my eyes, a great man, he was of course a regular guy who loved to laugh, kick back, fish, play poker, and enjoy a brew in younger years.  He had his faults, his foibles, his fears, and goodness knows he had his share of life’s burdens.  But he seldom complained, he never blamed, he accepted what life gave him with equanimity, strength and courage.  He looked for the silver lining in all life’s circumstances, and expected and found the best in those whose lives he touched.

My dad’s legacy will be with me always.  There are very many things he taught me, but he always told me, “Daughter, you are book-smart, but when it comes to common sense, you have to learn things the hard way. “

As in most things, he was right.  I do learn things the hard way.  Here are the things I am learning the hard way, today:

There is never enough time.

It hurts, immeasurably, to say goodbye.

It is impossible for words to do justice to, to sum up, or to take the measure of a man’s life.

So let me end with these words from my heart.  Dad, thank you for being the great man you were.  Thank you for the legacy of your love and kindness that lives on in all of us here.  And thank you for loving me. 

I say goodbye, but always, you are my sunshine, and always, you are with me in my heart.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The day after Labor Day

Wow, I did not post a single thing here in August, but did submit my poem "Why I Meditate" to the on-line magazine Elephant Journal, and it was published August 15.  I was so very pleased to be selected and get a little bit of exposure.

But back to blogging for the moment.

Labor Day got me to thinking about my work.

I have been licensed as a clinical psychologist since 1990, and spent thousands and thousands of hours in training in the ten years before that.   I was employed as a psychologist for about 10 years before opening up my private practice over 13 years ago.   I have seen thousands of patients during the period before my private practice but I have no statistics, except for my practice.  Here is what I found.

During the past 13 years, I have met with 701 different patients.  Actually more if I had kept count of collateral contacts.

I currently have 68 active clients.  Each week I usually schedule about 35 appointments, and end up having on average 30 direct service hours, with the balance taken up with phone calls, paperwork and a bit of down time for other things I enjoy doing.

Of these 68 folks, some I see weekly,  many twice a month, some once a month, others three or four times during the year.  I have no idea how this compares to other people's practices, but I feel fortunate that I am so busy.  I usually get at least three or four inquiry calls a week, and often direct people elsewhere.

This steady stream has kept me free to do my work, without having had to spend much time or thought on advertising or generating more referrals.  I do not want to get complacent about that, but I am thankful that as I got off the ground, I developed a few consistent sources of referrals, and then recommendations from previous clients and lots of self-referrals have allowed me to actually be selective in deciding with whom I wish to work.  Psychotherapy is often personally demanding, and it helps me prevent burn-out to stick with the kinds of people and problems that I enjoy the most and with which I work the best.

However,  a year or two ago I had the idea to build up my business in a different way, to market a personal development service for cash (not insurance) payment, and I put a fair amount of energy into developing that idea, even hiring a personal coach for awhile, but I stopped short of bringing it to full fruition.  It is still there in the wings waiting for me when I am ready.  I actually utilize a fair amount of those concepts with my current clients.

What happened instead: while going down the path of my own personal growth,  I re-discovered my love and passion for writing, and have directed my energy there instead.  And what a wonderful thing that has been for me.

I am re-energized.

I feel more creative.

I have taken risks.

I have come full circle back to something that was once so vital to me as an adolescent and young woman.  I realize I never entirely stopped writing, but until recently neither did I really embrace it and direct energy and purpose to it.

And that has made all the difference in the world.  I now see writing also as part of my work.  It is a true labor of love, for which remuneration is not important.    The chance to get some exposure, to have some sort of impact on the reader, to connect through my words, is the pay-off I seek.

In writing, as in psychotherapy, as in all relationships--words are powerful.

They can harm or heal, debase or empower, form enemies or alliances.

I intend for my words to provide pleasure for others, but more importantly to express an idea or an image that forms a connection, a reminder of shared humanity in both its many wonders and its frequent pain.  Sometimes the content is serious, sometimes humorous.

And when it is at its very best, I want what I write to create in the reader a moment of awareness of what is essential.

An awakening of spirit.

A calling forth of something that seeks to hear its name.

Thank you for allowing me that opportunity.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

100 words or less fiction...

Our little local happenings and events paper, The Acorn, is running a writer's contest called In a Nutshell, for fiction 100 words or less.

For someone as wordy as me, 100 is really hard.  Here is what I came up with as an entry:

Abby awakens to darkness, a deafening roar and a jolt that throws her from the bed to the floor which rises, falls and shimmies beneath her.  As dry wall crumbles, girders groan and glass explodes, she thinks:  Shit, this is it, California tumbles into the sea.   Crawling blindly, she finds a pillow, pulls it over her neck and head, curls tight, and rolls with the seismic waves while the crunch of collapse thunders in her ears. 

Then, all is quiet.  Abby opens her eyes.  In her bed, Chris beside her, the apneic silence is punctuated by his monstrous snore.   

Monday, July 23, 2012


I share this for those of you who appreciate the form.  You may vaguely remember the defining features of three quatrains and one couplet of iambic pentameter, the ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme,  and the content.   I had to go to Sonnets for Dummies to remind me of what I learned in high school English many moons ago.  In any event, I did this as a writing exercise, and it is clearly tongue in cheek.

The name of the sonnet is, well, 'Sonnet' because it is about the experience of writing a sonnet.  But that is like naming your dog "Dog."

How about 'Meta Sonnet'?  'Sonnet to the Second Power'?   'Shall I Compare Thee to The Words of the Bard'?   I will consider any and all suggestions.


For practice, in iambic I will write;

although ‘tis foreign writing lines this long.

I do this, for I cannot sleep tonight.

These words perchance can soothe me, as a song.

Ah yes, the rhythm is a melody,

a cadence that caresses as it flows.

For in these lines there can be no spondee,

and my beloved trochees dare not show.

But music of the muse is often wild,

intense, unmetered; minor chords abound.

Then how to find true voice in form so mild,

and honor craft and meaning in the sound?

But hark!  The tune emerged here from my head,

so off I go to pentametric bed.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Good morning!

Nothing new, just an invitation to peruse these posts if you haven't done so, and I welcome any and all feedback.  

 I have not written anything new prose or poetry-wise, in about a month, although I am beginning to work on a sonnet as a writing exercise.  Mostly I have been working, and enjoying the summer when not working.

Warm wishes for a wonderful week!  (Alliteration nightmare...)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Knowing That All Things Must End

A poem written last year...

Knowing That All Things Must End      

Throat laid bare with upturned chin,

vulnerable, exposed, breath in--

Dare to open once again.

Every joining, holding fast,

this present joy, too soon the past--

Cleaving to what cannot last.

Linger, savor, tarry, stay?

inexorable, the end of day--

Solstice moment, parting way.

Return to one must come in time;

unclasped, glance back, let loose of  “mine” --

Silence, and the taste of brine.

Monday, July 2, 2012

For Sophie...

It has been a little over a year since we had to put my Sophie down; she has been on my mind a bit lately.  And since I have no new inspiration at the moment, I am sharing something I wrote after she died.  

She was a German Shepherd, mixed with not-sure-what, maybe collie or Australian cattle dog, with a shepherd head and a mottled coat of many colors.  She was a bit of a doof, sweet as can be, but didn't much like other dogs except Freckles, maybe due to her days of being a stray.  But she was all love to me, Curtis and Chris.

I had never had to put a dog down before, and although there was nothing more we could do and she was non-responsive by the time we got her to the vet, it was still gut-wrenchingly painful.  But I was glad to be with her at the end, and writing this helped.

For Sophie

Just a note to say farewell my furry friend, and thank you for appearing in my life, loving me, and teaching me.

You taught me that worthwhile things are often inconvenient.  You taught me to give you frequent treats.  You taught me the value of staying close to those you love.   You taught me that big dogs are love bugs. You tried to teach me to stop leaving my gym bag around where you could get into it.  Finally, you are helping me learn, yet again in my life, how to let go.

Moments to remember:  You, roaming around behind the Edwards Theater, skinny and alone.  You, at the pound, days away from being put down, looking at me with those big brown eyes.   You, scaring the crap out of Freckles when we first brought you home.  You, the moment I knew we would keep you and love you, silently coming up to me when I was sitting at the computer, and laying your head on my knee.

You, with a huge tri-tip in your mouth that you stole off the kitchen counter.  You, chewing up yet another toilet paper roll or Kleenex or paper towel.  You, chasing Haley with her pony tail and thinking it was a rope bone.    You, accidently getting locked outside and waiting quietly by the front door.  You,  squeezing out from under the garage door the moment it was 10 inches off the ground.  You, lunging at that little dog in the truck that belonged to that very strange man.   You, using me as your personal scratching post.    

You, getting skinny from diabetes.  You, patiently enduring the twice daily insulin shots.  You, eyesight mostly gone, making the best of it.

You, your body pressed against mine, giving and receiving love.

Farewell my dear.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Being a Psychotherapist

Clients, as well as friends, often say to me, "I don't know how you do your job," and then follow it up with one of the following questions or comments.

"Don't you get tired of hearing people whining?"

The answer:  Occasionally, but not as often as you might imagine.  For the most part, at the point someone picks up the phone to engage my services, they are ready to do something different.  They are suffering, or struggling, or overwhelmed at the moment,  and their usual ways of coping are not enough, or may even be making things worse.  And while they may be temporarily stuck in a state of victimhood, or self-absorption, or worst of all, hopelessness, the pain is real, and the courage and trust it takes to enlist the help of a stranger to find a way out of the suffering is a very good sign.  No one truly wants to be miserable; it may simply have become a habit, a default mode of existence.

That being said, I too am human, and occasionally when a client is going down that road AGAIN, I think of Billy Crystal (Dr. Ben Sobel) in Analyze This:  He is listening to a client, complaining about her boyfriend Steve for the umpteenth time, and he begins to fantasize a response:

Dr. Sobel: Well, what I think you should do... is stop whining about this pathetic loser. 
[Sobel stands up] 
Dr. Sobel: You are a tragedy queen! "Oh, Steve doesn't like me!" "Steve doesn't respect me!" Oh, who gives a shit? GET A FUCKIN' LIFE! 

"Isn't it hard to just listen all day long?"

The answer:  Listening is important, and something that comes easily to me in this setting, but I damn well better be doing more that just listening.  It is a very active listening, one in which I am both emotionally engaged with my client and reflecting that engagement, while also a part of me is stepped back and observing, contemplating the meanings, implications and nuances, making connections with what else I know about my client.  Then, there is a response of some kind required, allowing the right words to come forth which might help them toward greater self-awareness, self-acceptance, insight and motivation to move beyond their current situation and habitual modes of responding.    Sometimes, just bearing witness in a compassionate and non-judgmental way to someone's experience is all that is necessary, at least until I feel more sure about what the helpful thing to do or say actually is.  But my style is fairly interactive and pro-active, not just reflective.

Best advice I ever got from a supervisor:  When you are not sure what to say, don't say anything.

"It must be draining/stressful/difficult to hear so much pain."

The answer:  Yes, sometimes it really is.  Rape, assault, emotional abuse, sexual abuse during childhood, addiction, death, grief, loneliness, self-loathing, betrayal, dreams deferred, utter and abject hopelessness, intense suicidal thoughts and feelings...yes, some days are harder that others.  I try to make sure that I meet my needs for socializing, exercising, rest, fun, meditation etc. so that I have energy reserves and balance.  The more experienced I have become, the easier it has gotten (usually) to keep boundaries in place and to know my job is not to be the savior.  And embracing the idea that pain is a part of life, but suffering need not be so, helps too.  Pain is not mine to take away, and it is in the suffering I can be helpful, but ultimately the degree to which someone profits from what I am able to do is not in my power either.

But I know I carry it sometimes.  When I get a deep tissue massage, I can tell that my back and shoulders are the physical repository for whatever I haven't let flow through me, professionally and personally.  I was surprised the first time I cried on the massage table; now when it happens, I understand why.

"How do you know what to do?"

The answer: Like all professions, mine has its techniques and its knowledge base to apply. God knows all that time spent in school and on practicum and internship better have taught me something.  And like all other sciences, it has empirical validation.  Like all healing practices, it has various interventions.  Like all relationships, it is based on shared humanity. And like all creative arts, the psychotherapeutic interaction is something alive and emerging in the present moment.  Each moment is unique, and when I am most genuine, responsive and attuned, experience and intuition guide me as to how to best respond.

However, it should go without saying that sometimes I don't know what the hell to do.  Occasionally in a session with someone I am distracted and off-kilter and I feel like I should refund their copayment.    Sometimes I totally put my foot in it and I will say or suggest something that is way off the mark from where my patient actually is.  Luckily, most people are forgiving of this and will simply correct me so that I can get back on track with them.

And sometimes I feel like I am not being helpful at all, because I am not seeing evidence of what I think  should constitute improvement, or change, or diminishing symptoms.  That is when a collegial consultation comes in handy.  Other times, I simply must remind myself that I never see the full picture from an hour in my office, and that some things take a lot of time.  And finally, sometimes things simply not getting worse is actual improvement.

The bottom line is, it is often hard for anyone to imagine doing someone else's job.  Mine is not especially heroic or unusual.  I can't fathom being an ER surgeon or  a soldier, but neither can I really imagine being an accountant or an architect.  If we are lucky, that is because we are doing exactly what we feel we are meant to be doing, and simply can't imagine it any other way.   So what seems impossible or boring or frightening to the outside observer does not feel that way to the person doing it.

I do feel lucky.  I love being a psychotherapist.  I feel honored and humbled to be trusted to walk with someone for a part of their path; at best, this allows me to be an agent of healing.   At worst,  I am simply present with someone, perhaps planting a seed that will blossom later.  

What is not to love?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer School (Fireflies) next version...

Here is the same poem from my previous post,  me tightening up the meter/syllable counts per line.   Sometimes I think it is structurally better to have everything evened out, other times I like the ragged edges for the flow of the meaning.

If anyone has an opinion regarding the two versions, would love to hear it!

Summer School

I remember lightning bugs:
first time I saw them,
a golden buzz blinking
in black of the night.

My cousins with a Bell jar,
holes punched in metal
for catching the laggards
and twisting lid tight.

I felt myself mesmerized;
that belly on fire
twinkling, one moment here
then one moment done

Ah, the thrill of the capture!
Delicate creature!
But once I encased it,
I wanted it gone

released to the nighttime sky,
back to the starshine;
because in the glass was
a prison and death.

I ached when I saw her there,
glow slowly fading,
wings searching for freedom,
she struggled for breath.

For here was a lesson learned
early in childhood,
though I had not words for
this wisdom I'd learned:

In the act of possessing
you kill what you love.
In taking the fire of
another, you burn.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer School

Summer School

I remember lightning bugs
and the first time I saw them
a golden buzz blinking
in the black of the night

My cousins with a Bell jar
holes punched in the metal
catching the laggards
twisting lid tight

I felt myself mesmerized
by the fire in their belly
the twinkling one moment here
one moment done

Ah, the thrill of the capture
this delicate creature
but once I encased it
I wanted it gone

released to the nighttime sky
back to the starshine
because in the glass
was a prison and death

I ached when I saw her there
glow slowly fading
wings searching for freedom
as she struggled for breath

For here was a lesson learned
early in childhood
though I had not words for
this wisdom I'd learned:

In the act of possessing
you kill what you love
and in taking the fire
of another you burn

Thursday, June 21, 2012

But my no-self still needs sleep...

So as to what I was reading from the night before that may have spurred some insomnia.   I just had started reading a book on Buddhism on the Kindle that my husband so thoughtfully just got for me.  I love the feel of books and so resisted the whole e-book thing, but I find that I like it.  It is kind of like holding a book, and it has a groovy little night light.

Anyway, the chapter was about awakening to the true nature of mind and no-self.  I will do my best to explain what I was reading as far as my still limited understanding goes, and if anyone reading this post can correct or further enlighten me (pun intended) I would love your feedback and dialogue.

Buddhist psychology looks at mind in its pure state as a process, not a thing, and as a result there is not really a self that exists independent of others, no static entity, but rather, no-self.  That is, the concept of a fixed identity is an illusion of sorts, an artifact that we construct out of our beliefs about the nature of reality, particularly dualities such as there being a world "out there" and then a separate world inside my head, what I consider "me."

And when I am caught in the concept of "me" there is always something to defend, to cling to, to avoid, to fear--all in an attempt to preserve an idea of a "me" that exists only because I have constructed it.  You, I, all of us are more like drops of water in a larger stream; we do not exist independent of the stream, we are the stream and the stream is us.

Now I find this to be a wonderful, limitless, peaceful point of view; when I can inhabit that idea and I really feel into it during meditation, the experience is beyond words.    It is the flip side to my existential dread, that fear of non-being, the loss of "me" upon death.  Buddhist philosophy is that my suffering because of those thoughts and fears is unnecessary, because there is no actual individual, isolated self to lose.

Okay, so if these kind of ideas are new to you, this might sound like gibberish, and when I am too caught up in my ego, this perspective can spin me out a bit.  But truly, in combination with other aspects of Buddhist values and practices, I find these ideas to be absolutely transformative, and (a word only a recovering Catholic Buddhist would use), redemptive.

This kind of inquiry into the nature of reality, the questioning of perceptions and assumptions, and moving past limitations I have placed on myself and others is vital to me right now.

But it I think at bedtime it may be a little intense.  

Better to read or ponder some other aspect of Buddhism like loving-kindness, something soothing to lead to slumber, and leave the mind-morphing stuff to a fully rested brain, planting the seed in the morning light, then meditating, to see what fruit it bears.

Or maybe at night I should just switch to one of the other books Curtis loaded on my Kindle.

Hmmm, Fifty Shades of Grey...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


I want to be sleeping, but it is almost midnight and here I am writing.  Sometimes I am purposefully and happily up late writing, when I am feeling inspired, or just can't step away until whatever I am working on feels finished.

Not tonight.  Really, I just want to sleep.  And of course, sleep is one thing you can not will yourself to do, it has to happen.  The more vexed you feel by not sleeping, the more impossible it becomes.  So rather than toss and turn, here I am at the computer.

Insomnia is one of the most ubiquitous of human complaints, although I wonder if non-Western societies are as plagued.

And there are so many reasons and factors.

I never had any issue with sleeping until having a baby; most women will tell you they never quite rest as well again once sleep is so massively interrupted by the discomfort of the third trimester and then the arrival of the bundle of  up-all-night joy.  Yes, shitty diapers makes for shitty sleep, and my sleep has been generally a bit lighter since that time in my life, as though I could never entirely turn off that vigilance for things that go "wah" in the night.

And then of course there is perimenopause.  My friend Rita said she was surprised I did not include insomnia in my post the other day.  I guess I wasn't really making the association, but now that I think about it, my insomnia does seem more frequent lately.  Hormones affect everything...

Then there is the factor of poor sleep hygiene, as it is called.  Most of us have some bad habits that get in the way of a good night's sleep, like leaving the TV on.  Or sometimes we do things in bed we shouldn't, like pay the bills.  The first rule of good sleep hygiene is that the bed is only for sex and sleep. Since sometimes I try to help my clients with insomnia, I know all the things that you are supposed to do and not do, and of course I do not always follow my own good advice (like right now, engaging in the stimulating activity or writing!)  But even when I do everything the right way, sometimes it just is what it is.  I can not sleep.

Many people are up at night because they are worried or stressed and can't turn off the chatter in their brain.  I tend not to worry too much, but occasionally my brain gets to buzzing about something or the other.   And tonight, as many times, it is also that my body that feels restless, despite the fact I am really tired.  It is not a lack of exercise; I spent an hour at the gym this morning, and one after work.

Well, it just is what it is.  I will go lay back down, focus on breath, and sooner or later I will shift into non-consciousness.

Ah, it just occurred to me!  I was reading right before I tried to go to sleep, and I think it stirred me up a bit.  I will tell you about what I was reading on my next post, or else I really shall be up for half the night.

See you in my dreams...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday, Monday...

Just a quick post as the strains of The Mamas and The Papas float through my head.  Just like the lyrics of the song, I think many of us have an ambivalent reaction to this day of the week.  Are we energized and purposeful for the coming week?  If so, then "Cool, it's  Monday!"  Was the weekend not long enough for us, and are we ignoring the fact that we are in a rut of some kind, or dreading the coming week?  Then it's "Crap, it's Monday."

I rather like Mondays though.  Usually.  Sometimes I feel a little tired as I look at a very full schedule of clients for the coming week, or if I am feeling rueful about that report I really should have sat down to do on Sunday.  But  I start and end Monday at the gym, in the morning with  rigorous weight training, which makes me feel healthy and strong,  and then with dancing in the evening, which makes me exuberant and joyful.  What's not to like about those feelings?

So to all my friends, I wish for you on this day the energy and capacity to open wide to all you desire for the coming week.  Shape it to your liking where you can, choose a helpful attitude when you can't, pay it forward to a stranger, spend time with someone you love,  and embrace the present moment.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ridin' the Harley

Yesterday my husband and I took a ride to Eagle Rock to visit a funky burger/sandwich joint called The Oinkster.  It was the first I had been on the bike in a while; I think the last time was late last summer, maybe early autumn.

Being on the back of a Harley, hurtling down the freeway at 70 miles per hour, the roar of the wind in my ears --you would think that would be an entirely present-moment experience.  So it was interesting to me to notice that I had to keep pulling myself out of my head to focus on sensation and perception.  At first, the reason was... well... anxiety and fear.

Curtis is an experienced biker, sure handed and safe and not afraid to kick up the speed.  I can count on both hands and maybe one foot the number of times I have been on a motorcycle, and I am still getting used to it.

It is an exhilarating experience, but it is very raw and exposed as well, and as much as I like to think of myself as a risk-taker, I know that in very many ways I am not.  So it is a small step of courage to ride with nothing but a bitchin' helmet to protect me.   Although holding on to the sturdy frame of my husband helps, I still find myself closing my eyes as the bike tips towards the ground in the bend of the curve, and I remind myself to relax and let the lean happen.  By the time we are on our way home, I am getting used to that curious sensation once again.

But even after I have let go of the tension, still I notice my mind wandering away from the beauty of the landscape and sky through which we are traveling.  Sometimes a random rumination, sometimes just the running commentary that tends to fill my head all the time as if I am writing a script.  As I keep bringing my attention back --to the green hues of the crops, or the scrubby hillside, or the wind and the sun on my skin--I begin to find just the barest beginning brief moments of pure awareness, the gap between thoughts that comes so much more easily when sitting in the dark and quiet of my morning meditation.

I guess I need more riding practice.  Letting go of automatic reactions, trusting the moment, leaning in to the scary places.  I like this metaphor as it is unfolding for me right now as I write this.  This is how I want to live, this mindful and purposeful practice of fully inhabiting the present moment.  Whether I am on the bike, washing the dishes, talking with a friend, doing therapy, walking to lunch; I want to be in the now in all its fullness, neither grasping nor avoiding, fully engaged and authentically expressive.

It is the practice of a lifetime.  But I have a handsome guy with a Harley to help me along.

And Happy Father's Day to my favorite biker dude.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Here is the edited version of my piece, as it appears in the July issue of The Sun.  The subject: Heat.

I was home for a brief visit in the humid heat of a Carolina summer. “So you really don’t believe in God?” my dad asked nonchalantly as we drove by the church of my childhood.

Oh, Lord, I thought. I always felt a slight rush of blood to my cheeks when this subject came up.

I’d been raised Catholic — with the incantations and the incense, the gilded chalice and the guilty conscience — but I’d pulled away from the Church as a young woman, finally rejecting all religion. My dad was a devout convert, and I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of faith caused him consternation.

Still, I was honest with him. I said I thought there are energies and dimensions we don’t understand, but I didn’t think there’s a deity, certainly not one who sits in judgment and punishes and rewards.

“So you don’t believe in an afterlife either?” he asked. “No heaven and hell?” 

I told him I believed that we have only this one life to live, and when it’s over, it’s over. I didn’t acknowledge that I sometimes had midnight moments of existential dread and panic due to this belief.

“Who knows, Dad,” I said, wanting to lighten the mood. “I could be wrong. Maybe after I die I will be pleasantly surprised.”

“Or maybe not,” he replied.

At first I felt shock: Had he implied that I’d be banished to fires of hell? But then I saw the twinkle in his eye.

My father died a few years later. I still don’t think I will see him in an afterlife, but I have felt his presence near me since his death.

I am a Buddhist now. I wonder if he would consider that an improvement over my atheism. I certainly do. I’ll take the cycle of rebirth over the fires of hell any day. And my meditation practice has quelled those white-hot fears in the middle of the night.

Katherine Hamilton
Camarillo, California

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

And now for something completely different...

Well, I got nothing today save this little item.

I try to practice mindfulness if I am walking somewhere outside.  I endeavor to get out of my head and whatever it is I am preoccupied with at the moment, and really notice what is all around me.  You know, the sky, the plants, the warmth of the sun, the sounds, and all the small details that I would never see without directing my attention in that way.

So I am walking back to my office from lunch, and I see a woman walking her dog.  The dog is a closely cropped mottled black and white,  with a bobbed tail, some breed subtype of a spaniel, sturdy and handsome.

But what stops me in my tracks are the eyelashes.  The dog has eyelashes that are, without exaggeration, at least four inches long, sweeping dramatically out to the side.  I have never seen anything like it before in my life, and I am charmed and stop to talk briefly to the owner about it.

And then I notice something that makes my jaw drop:  the dog has a penis.

Now, with people, I think of myself as the tolerant type, live and let live, and whatever floats your boat is just fine with me.   I like the unexpected, the incongruent, the quirky; I am happy to walk alongside someone marching to the beat of a different drummer.  In fact, I love a man in eyeliner, but that is the subject of a different post.

So I am bemused that I find myself applying human gender stereotypes to a dog, to the point that my initial reaction is mild shock when I see this sweet creature.  I am laughing to myself as I extend my hand palm down in greeting, and the dog responds, as dogs tend to do, with interest, and he accepts a pat on the head.

A tranny canine?  Why not?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Perimenopause... this one is for you, ladies.

So I am 54 and still having periods.  I just looked up the average age of menopause (no period for 12 months) and it is 51.  Some women even go into their late 50's, occasionally early 60's.   Shoot me now.

I am definitely in the perimenopausal stage, with a vengeance, and I can't fathom going through this for another 5 years or so.  What's the big deal, you may ask?  (You are not asking this question if you are anywhere near my age... or anywhere near a woman my age.)

Well, let's see.  Topping the charts, and topping the scales, there's the creeping weight gain!   Even though I am doing nothing differently in nutrition or exercise (still work out a ton and usually eat well) I have gone up a size and I am having a hell of a time trying not to gain more much less lose what I have put on.  It feels like one step forward, two steps back, and there is a pile of jeans in my garage calling my name.  My ass, however, isn't answering.

Of course, then there's everyone's favorite, the irritability!  I have always considered myself even-tempered, even non-reactive.  Now I can feel extreme rage sweep over me in a nanosecond.  I feel like I should have business cards made to hand out to everyone in my path that say:      
                              I am so very sorry that I (circle one)
                               a. gave you the finger
                               b. said "Fuck you!!"
                               c. plotted your murder
                               d. all of the above.

And then there are the fluctuating periods!  28 days, 21 days, 43 days, 14 days, 80 days (at that point, I thought it was over, but NOOO).  And of course the varying presentations of said periods: no cramps,  or dear-god-I-am-14-again high intensity PAIN;  flowing like a stuck pig, or (only occasionally) barely there.

Oh, and not to mention the premenstrual symptoms which are (cue music)  New!  Improved!  Not only stronger, but last much longer!  Like the fatigue.  Right before my period I feel like someone slipped a Quaalude in my Quaker Oats.  I am secretly thrilled when a patient cancels or doesn't show up so I can lay down on my couch and take a nap.  I just have to sleep on my back so I don't have sleep lines on my face for my next appointment.  And remember to check the pillow for drool.

Of course,  the irritability then becomes a constant buzz in the back of my brain.  My poor husband and son.  My most accurate premenstrual indicator is how I am at the dinner table.  When I look over at them eating in disgust, and wonder what the hell was I thinking when I married one and gave birth to the other,  I know what joy tomorrow will bring.

And the never-ending charms of the fuzzy brain!  I have always been a little, well, not ditzy but let's say     tending to exist on a plane of reality about five degrees askew.  Now I feel like I need to put aside time in my daily schedule  for the inevitable and interminable searches for misplaced glasses, keys, and whatever it was that I just had in my hand.  Last week I confirmed an appointment in the morning with a workman at my office, being very clear that he had to come at an exact time between patients, and then two hours later I totally forgot and went out to lunch with my son instead.

I have to say that the hot flashes have not been so bad yet, except that a few weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night with cramps AND a hot flash.  Really?  Really??   But what I truly love is my face breaking out at the same time that my wrinkles are deepening, a geo-facial anomaly of epic proportions.   Think Mount Etna atop the Marianas Trench.  Charming.

Ah well, I feel a little better now that I have vented, but  I need to go take some more Advil.  So to all my sisters of a certain age out there, all I can say is let's muddle through this phase of our lives with a little grace and good humor.

To everyone else, fuck you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Random Acts...

I pack up my bulging briefcase, lock up the office, and walk to my car at the end of my workday. It's around 6:30, still sunny and warm, and as I am pondering dinner and clicking the unlock button, I glance at the ground and see a familiar shape.  It is one of those car magnet memorial ribbons, upside down, so only the gray outline against the blacktop is seen.

It takes a moment to sink in.  I have two on the back of my car.  I look at my bumper; yes, now I have only one, with a remnant of the one torn from my car still hanging on.  My 2009 Carolina Basketball National Championship ribbon is still there.

The one that was vandalized says:  "Practice Random Acts of Kindness."

I pick up the ribbon, getting ready to put it back on the car, annoyed for a moment, but that feeling is quickly replaced by one of curiosity.  Who was this person, and what was their motivation?  (Ever the psychologist...) As I ran through the possibilities, I felt bemusement, anxiety, and then sadness.

Bemusement:  I imagine it could have just been a teenager walking by with a friend, goofing, laughing at the intended irony.  Okay, I stole my share of signs of one kind or another as a youth.

Anxiety:  It could be someone who knows me and my car.   In that case it is a more personal attack, but I do not generally tend towards paranoia so I dismiss that idea fairly quickly.

Sadness:  What my intuition tells me is that it may have been someone who is suffering.  Someone who feels so alone, or is so sad, or angry, (or all three)  that they are inflamed by this benign thought.  How painful to be that closed off and hopeless that you would feel agitated by the very kind of message of which you might most need to be the beneficiary.

I take a moment to breathe in that kind of suffering, and breathe out a wish for well-being as I replace the ribbon on my bumper.

I hope it was the teenager.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why I Meditate -- revised

June 6, 2012    Why I Meditate -- revised

I like this one better (than the one from May 26).  What do you think?  And lest someone think I plagiarize, the bow to Allen Ginsberg is because he has a poem by the same name, he listing his reasons he meditates, and it spurred me to reflect on my own.

Why I Meditate

            with a bow to Allen Ginsberg

I sit because my Soul wants me to remember

I sit, that my Muse may whisper in the silence

I sit because baby girls get clitorectomies

I sit in order to feel what came before ego

I sit because I drink too much

I sit to honor the Source of Being

I sit, for then I feel connection to All

I sit because I am aimless and distracted if I don’t

I sit so that others will learn the power of mindfulness

I sit; it is easier than standing up

I sit because of genocide, hatred and fear

I sit to experience peace and spaciousness

I sit, and am more alive in the present

I sit to prepare for the moment of death

I sit to breathe in suffering, and to breathe out well-being

I sit because I am too old for mushrooms and LSD

I sit for the spider, the snail, the cactus

I sit for the lotus, the dolphin, the dog

I sit to transform the consciousness of the world

I sit, that I might touch the stars

                                                                                    Katherine Hamilton
                                                                                    rev. 6/5/12

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Yesterday's follow-up: Tubac, longer version

So here is the more elaborated form of the poem "Tubac" I spoke of yesterday.  If you care to weigh in on which you like better, and why, I would love to hear it.


the hawk
 jet black
against blue

jade cactus
dry brown
rocky hills
rise on
the horizon.

wings wide
with the draft

just being
             at rest
                        in the pause
hunt and hunger

            seared rock
                        hot wind

her keen eye
                        all this
                                    that exists
earth and sky

Monday, June 4, 2012

On keeping things simple...

I just got home from a writers group meeting, a read and critique where people share parts of their work and get feedback from everyone present.

Such an eclectic group tonight! A man in his 90's writing his memoir of growing up in the twenties and thirties, a psychologist (not me) with a non-fiction self-help book about shame, another memoir writer who has been a political activist, two young female fantasy novelists, and little old me, tonight with a poem.

I shared "Tubac" (see post dated May 27), actually two versions of the poem, the original from my post and a somewhat longer version where I was playing with the placement of words on the page.  The overall consensus was that those present liked the first, simpler version better.  In fact, so do I.  The original one, more spare and minimal, conveys the feeling better.  I still have some tweaking to do, but it brings me to my thought for the evening.

That is, how simpler usually IS better, in most areas of my life.  Why then do I complicate things so?  Embellishing when none is needed, cluttering when I prefer clear, second-guessing an original impulse or intuition, going around the point instead of straight to it, complicating things by postponing and procrastinating.

Actually "why" is not really the issue; I know the why.  The why always has to do with some self-limiting belief or habitual response, being in my head and not my heart or soul, or having lost sight at the moment of what it is I truly want and who I am.

The issue is continuing to work on the "how" of keeping things simple, honest, spacious and true.  Meditation helps, a lot.  So do family and friends who will (lovingly) call me on my shit, or challenge me to move beyond.

Mostly it has to do with staying mindful.  Because if I am in the present moment, that awareness and connection is like a lighthouse beacon, showing the way through the fog, to a clearing.  In that clearing,  whatever is essential remains, and the rest falls away.

So here is the original poem again, with just a little of that tweaking.  I will post the more complicated version tomorrow, and you can see what you think.

Tubac                                                                                                            version 1

is how I wish to be
like the hawk, black against blue
jade cactus below
and brown desert hills rise
just on the horizon
wings open
with draft and drift
in the moment before hunger and hunt
simply being
the floating
between earth and sky
in the nuance of now.