I'm on the first-ever Dawn Downey Book Tour. I've been away from home, marveling at the generosity of my friends, who are coming up with brilliant promotional ideas and opening their homes to me. Watching them in the comfort and familiarity of their private spaces, I can't help longing for my own bed. So here's a post from last fall, to remind me of home.
At Home in Paradise:
I woke up at 2:00 a.m. with the blanket wrapped around my ankles in a serpentine tangle. My husband snored beside me, his arm heavy on my chest. I wriggled free to retrieve the covers and tuck them under my chin. The sweet scent of an apple core on the nightstand mingled with body odor from the long-past-laundry-day sheets. Outside the window, treetops swayed in the moonlight, and fallen leaves rustled as they skipped across our patio. An airplane roared above the night. At home in Paradise, I drifted back to sleep.
We who loved her are left to ask our pointless questions, until they trail off …
I stand mute at my bedroom window and press my forehead against the glass, as if I might catch a glimpse of her out by the birdbath.
Dad's pipe tobacco. He could not criticize while puffing.
Ivory soap. The bar that floated. After my bath, I was 99.44% pure. My impurities left a ring around the tub.
Pine-Sol. Somebody cared enough about me to mop the floor I walked on.
Chalk dust. It collected in the tray beneath the blackboard in high school Spanish class. It sifted into the air as I passed notes to the football star two seats over.
Newsprint ink. One summer in college I proofed the copy for want-ads, ferreted out typos from freshly printed pages. It was a solitary job in the basement of the News-Press. My hermit sanctuary.
Shalimar. A dab on my throat. I bought it often when I was single. A splurge. A gift from me to me.
Eucalyptus trees. At the Vedanta Society in Santa Barbara. My husband, brother, sister, and I meditated at vespers. The eucalyptus blessed our prayers.
The aromas--gone. The me who discerned them––gone as well. Molecule by molecule, she drifted into the atmosphere like smoke. Even though I could reclaim these scents right now, they wouldn't be the same. Had I been wiser, I might have performed a ritual farewell, but I failed to acknowledge my transient treasures and a hundred million others that passed away each hour.
From now on, I intend to say goodbye like I really mean it. Closure is a luxury.
“Are you under any stress?” my therapist asked.
“Heck no, Everything’s wonder––. Wait. Yes.” I slumped into the couch. “A friend bought ten copies of my book. Another bought five. They’re promoting it. Writing reviews that are really moving. It’s stressing me out. I can’t think. Sometimes I go blank.”
“Positive affect disorder,” he said. (Or maybe it was positive affect deregulation. Or positive affect dehydration.) “Negative comes in at a different voltage than positive. You’re wired for negative. Too much good short-circuits your system.”
I perked up. My brain loved to learn new things about itself. Positive affect discombobulation. Words offer answers, entertainment that distracts my mind from the truth of its irrelevance.
But tissues buried deep within my body relaxed, as electrical currents switched pathways. Muscles eased their grip around the goal of creating a perfect Dawn. Rewiring of the system had already begun.
I will probably still balk when the good stuff lands in front of me. You might have occasion to rush toward me with outspread arms. You might have occasion to exclaim, “What a magnificent achievement.” (And I certainly hope you will.) If that scenario plays out between us, please don’t be alarmed if my eyes glaze over. Or my speech slurs. Or my dreadlocks whip around my head like live wires. All indications of a short circuit.
Watch out for sparks, and talk about the weather until the power is restored.
Her husband and I, standing just inside the front door, talked about hospice, the DNR taped to their refrigerator, and the morphine on the shelf.
She awoke crying out in pain. He rushed up the stairs to her. I wanted to follow him up those stairs and right into their bedroom, to pat her hair, caress her cheek. But I waited in the living room. The house was still. Already empty.
A friend lay dying, her husband hurting. And there was nothing I could do.
I closed my eyes. Goodbye, Honey. I love you.
I’m having a sh**ty week.
Please don’t tell me things will get better. Please don’t point out the inherent beauty of my rotten week. Please don’t offer to clear my lower chakras of the energy blockage that is obstructing light-filled messages from my guardian angels.
I’m not one to make lemonade from lemons. Fruit is OK in my book, on its own, without somebody wanting to liquify it. Let my lemons be lemons.
Sh**ty weeks are a part of life, and I don't need to transcend life's poop.
Fortunately, others on the planet serve as my gurus in this department, living peacefully with excrement.
Dung beetles possess by far the most pragmatic attitude. Depending on which species they are––they eat poop, live in it, use it for a nursery, build with it, or wear it as flip flops to protect their tootsies from the baking savannah. There are 8,000 species of dung beetle, so you’ve got to figure they know what they’re doing. When my gardening buddies spread manure onto flower beds, they’re thinking carnations, lavender, and black-eyed susans. In Thailand, they turn elephant and panda dung into paper, which means the next New York Times best-seller might stink, in spite of the author’s literary genius. Zulu women use it to fuel their cooking fires. In Talkeetna, Alaska, you can buy moose dung earrings at the annual Moose Dropping Festival.
If my week continues to feel like a giant cow patty, I will not try to rise above it. I'll follow the noble example of the Aphodian dung beetle: burrow right on into it and make myself at home.
I studied mindfulness with the zeal of a fanatic. Meditations. Exercises. Verses composed of impenetrable phrases. “Arising and passing away.” “In the hearing, just the heard.” “Contemplate the body in the body.”
None of it prepared me for the firsthand experience.
Once, an elderly couple waltzed past me on a dance floor, and for just a moment I was unexpectedly aware of the sensation of joy. A flare-up of blazing delight, without my usual cynicism or jealousy. It was the first time I'd felt pure undiluted happiness in all my six decades. When the joy disappeared, there was no desire to hold on to it.
Years later, mindfulness introduced me to embarrassment. A woman insulted me at a party in front of a group. The heat of humiliation flooded my cheeks. My heart pounded, fast and loud. And, at the same time, I was peaceful, even curious. So … you’re shame. I’ve heard a lot about you. Then shame and I kept each other company for a few minutes.
Mindfulness. I didn't practice it. It saturated my parched landscape like a cloudburst. My emotions flourished, joy and shame equally lush.
Mindfulness: uncaused, unavoidable, unreasonable.
Let me tell you about my irresponsible life.
My Life (I'll call her ML for short) spent the morning zoning out on Facebook, with a couple of detours to slide shows of the ten worst celebrity plastic surgeries and the nine life-changing secrets to a perfect manicure. And then ML sat herself on the couch and watched five straight hours of television. We're not talking public television. We're talking reality t.v. Network reruns. During the commercials, ML daydreamed about upgrading her cell phone––maybe to an iPhone, manufactured by exploited Chinese workers or to a Samsung, manufactured by exploited Chinese children. At dinner time, My Liife snarfed up a genetically modified corn-fed beef burger, on a bun made from refined white sugar and genetically modified wheat. And the fast food place was only three blocks away; you'd think ML would have walked, Lord knows she needed the exercise. But no, she drove her (fossil-fuel-burning non-hybrid) car.
I need to get a better life. A life that contributes something to society. Everybody knows you shouldn't spend your money on products that poison the environment. Everybody knows you ought to eat organic. Or at least avoid white sugar. And television...it's a known fact that will fry your brain. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to make big changes. I'm going to get a life that reflects deep spiritual values.
As I fussed and worried and planned, My Life kicked back to watch an episode of Big Bang Theory, unconcerned with responsibility and spirituality.
Yesterday morning, just as I woke up lying next to my husband, if you'd asked me what I wanted most in the world, the answer would have come on a contented sigh. “Nothing at all. What more could I possibly want?”
Yesterday afternoon, my yoga buddy pulled up to class in a white BMW convertible. I wanted that.
I want to stand in front of Mona Lisa at the Louvre, see what all the fuss is about … sit next to Anna Wintour at every show during New York's Fashion Week. I want paparazzi to follow me around.
I want to lie on the couch in my pajamas, watching movies until I'm eighty-five.
I lust for a live-in hair stylist, because dreadlocks require more care than I’d planned on. I crave maid service. And a loft in the city. And a John Deere mini excavator.
I want to thank Neil DeGrasse Tyson, sing back-up for my sister Michelle, ask Uncle Al what he regrets, become the next great stand-up comic, and deliver a bring-down-the-house Academy Awards acceptance speech.
I long to join a Vedanta convent.
Cradle a newborn baby.
Win the Indy 500.
Belong. Be alone.
Another breath, another want. It exhausts me. Let me fade into the real, free from my desires. Even wanting that, I'm still enslaved.
I’m as shocked to be writing this as you must be to read it.
The first three times your face flashed across my television screen, I did not understand all the hullabaloo. Big deal. A guy said something racist. And the players? They knew your values every time they cashed their paychecks. So, please, a bunch of rich people squabbling among themselves. Where’s the news?
Avoiding a commercial on another network, my channel-surfing husband landed on your CNN interview. “Look at that face. Really, you’ve got to feel sorry for him.” (And here’s a good reason to avoid marriage: your spouse will annihilate your superiority complex, with a kind remark right out of the blue.)
Against my will, I breathed in my husband’s words. You did not arrive into this moment a full-blown media anti-hero. Life placed you on earth as an innocent baby boy, whose mother probably said, “Look at that face.”
Life composed your words, which I labeled racist, as surely as Life wrote “I have a dream.” Life gave you wealth, as surely as It made Siddhartha a prince. It expressed Itself through your confusion, as surely as It radiated through Christ’s compassion.
And so, against my will, against all logic, Donald Sterling, my teacher, I love you.