What Sound, Change?

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I remember
sitting on the front porch
that August night
my father died
thinking surely I would know.
Surely there would be
some sign
some sound
to note the if and when
of his passing

THIS IS THE DAY.

But
change needs
no fanfare.
No crescendo.

I remember
leaving you
two years ago this day
thinking
“I will never see you again.”
No fanfare.
No crescendo.
Wet gravel beneath my tires,
winter rain against the window–
change’s only notes.

I remember.
Its aftermath
Still echoes
like the tempest
that brews
overhead
this morning.
I want
the thunder to
crash loudly.
Rattle the roof
and windows.
Mark the anniversary
with ferocity

THIS IS THE DAY.

But
change needs
no fanfare.
No crescendo.


From the archives, ©2008, Jen Payne


Perhaps Found

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It was the anthem of my twenties,
fledgling adult longing
painfully called out on radio waves
reminding me over and over

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

Then frequent opportunity for flashback
on the oxymoron of
“oldies rock ‘n roll” stations,
its classic, timeless reminder

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

Volume up and
from the diaphragm
in what I like to imagine
was harmony, I sang

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

over and over

Then suddenly, not.
One day Bono calls out longingly
and I just don’t respond.
I have no use for his anthem now—
nor mine—
and change the channel


WORDS: ©2014, Jen Payne
IMAGE: Girl Standing on Foreshore, Half Moon Bay, 1932, Museum Victoria.


And at every moment, angels.

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How blessed are we to have angels
who show up when we need them?
(And even when we think we don’t?)

Angels who are as obvious as the ones we love…
and as subtle as the stranger who knocks at our door.

In the moments we celebrate.
In the moments we find gratitude.
In the moments that challenge us.
In the moments that wreck our hearts.

At every moment, angels.


©2014, Jen Payne


The FIVE YEAR Mark!

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It’s hard to believe it has been FIVE YEARS since I quit smoking. Five years, today!

It ranks in the Top Five of my proudest accomplishments, sharing space with starting a business, buying a house, visiting France, and writing a book. It is that big.

It is that big because it was not just about quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is not just about quitting smoking.

Quitting smoking is about making a commitment to being healthy — mind-body-spirit healthy — and deciding to change your lifestyle so completely that smoking is no longer an option.

Quitting smoking is about making peace with the empty space — and the fear, loneliness, sadness, and grief that tends to congregate there. Everyone has an empty space. Everyone. And nothing fills it up — not cigarettes or alcohol or shopping or sex…or even cookies. You just have to make peace with it.

Quitting smoking is about the long haul. It’s a marathon event that might be helped by pills or patches or programs, but in the wee hours of the morning, it’s just you and the long, quiet road ahead. You have to feel safe there.

Quitting smoking is about support. Friends and family and loved ones who support your effort 100%. Who don’t let you slide, cheat, reconsider. Who cheer you on with love and atta-girls and encouragement — the day you quit, the week you quit, the month you quit. And yes, even five years after you quit.

But ultimately? Ultimately, quitting smoking is about loving yourself enough. Finally.


To Fred, MaryAnne, Martha, Bob, Carol, Dale, the folks at K&G, Mary, Pamela, Rhonda, Stef, Steve, Tara, DeLinda, Melissa, Doreen, the wonderful women from my Sharing Circle, Dr. Brainerd, Dorothy, David Sedaris, Pat and Betty at CVS, and everyone who stood witness, I thank you from the bottom of my healing heart and lungs.

If you want to stop smoking, please read this book now.


Expectations

I thought it would be different. There are a number of people traveling to Austin on the 6:20 flight this morning, more than I imagined as I drove through Hartford at four and pictured myself alone in the terminal.

The man across from me wears snakeskin boots, but I am certain he is not a Connecticut line-dancing cowboy. His skin is too leathered for such foolishness, too wrinkled with worry about the ranch, the cattle, the injuns. Or so I imagine. Perhaps I do that too often—judge books by covers, weave stories before I know truth.

At first glance, the cowboy seems gruff, but I catch a smile on his face when he waves to a girl asking questions.

“Is that our plane?”

“Can we go inside?”

“What if it crashes?”

They’re the questions we’d all ask if we were young and unfettered in our anxieties. To speak them out loud now would be inappropriate, so we sit in quiet unease.

Her pointed finger leaves a mark on the frost-coated window. The radio said 27 degrees, my sister says it’s 75 in Austin.

“Is that sock weather?”

“Should I bring a jacket?”

“Jeans or shorts?”

It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re someplace else.

There’s a hodge-podge of folks waiting here this morning, young students and older couples, corporate types, and that one character who stands out just enough that we all look again, at least once.

The man I saw in the food court earlier sits next to me. His hair is thin at the top and I notice a hint of gray — he is about my age. Dress pants and a pale blue button down. Is he on business or traveling home for the holidays? I picture both and wonder.

His cologne is familiar, and I think of my lover yesterday, smiling down as I rested my head against his thigh. It was a broad smile that caught me off-guard, and I laughed as he pulled me towards him for a kiss. It’s the first time I have thought of him this morning, and I think I miss him. I want to think I miss him.

Wouldn’t this man in the button-down have seen me off this morning?

Kissed me passionately as if we were parting forever?

Shooshed kindly at the tears I cry whenever I leave familiar?

A line is forming now in this corner of the terminal. First class is boarding, and the rest of us gather our things to wait.

In a line at the coffee shop last night, my friend turned to me and said, “You expect too much of people.” My blush of surprise was as if she’d slapped me across the face.

“You are very loving,” she continued, “but you expect people to love you the same way in return. It disappoints you when they can’t.”

“I thought it would be different,” I said, shrugging my shoulders to change the subject. “I hear it’s 75 in Austin. Can you imagine?”

• • •

Photo, Morning Terminal, by Connecticut photographer Ellen Bulger. Click here to see more of her work.

From the archives, while I work on finishing my book. ©2008, Jen Payne.

The Shedding of Old Skin

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The definition of ecdysis comes from a Greek word meaning to strip off, and refers to the process by which reptiles moult or shed their skin. To my ear, it sounds strikingly similar to exodus: ecdysis. Perhaps it is an exodus — the dead skin leaving the body?

It takes a snake from several days up to a week or more to fully shed its skin. This natural process is directly related to growth: the more a snake grows, the more often it will shed. On average, a healthy adult snake will shed it skin 2-4 times a year.

Humans shed skin, too: 1.5 million skin cells every hour with a new skin surface every 28 days or so. But it is not the same type of transformation — the same obvious extrication from old to new.

I found myself thinking on all of that when I spied this fabulous remnant of discarded snakeskin along the trail last week. I stared at it with the same fascination I did this video of an actual snake moulting: http://youtu.be/xmCflSFk4t0.

Call me strange, but the visceral reaction I had was akin to watching someone stretch or yawn, and I found my body screaming: I WANT TO DO THAT TOO!

I don’t want to wait 28 days for a new skin! I want to shed this one now!

You’ll have to forgive me. The past month has been full of growth, full of things I am letting go of and leaving behind: things I’ve needed to say for years, concerns I’ve been carrying for months, objects returned to rightful owners, and amends made after way too long.

I keep using the word “closure,” but I suspect that’s not exactly accurate. Closure implies shut and done. But I feel like I am still carrying something, holding memories of these old stories and definitions I no longer need, that no longer fit this body, this being.

I know there are new stories to tell now. Other beginnings to find and endings to discover. I guess I just want proof. I want to look in the mirror and see that all of this — this — has changed. I want something tangible that shows my exodus from that chapter of the story to this new one. I want to look down and see my old skin, my old self, discarded there, neatly wound up around itself like this snakeskin left on the trail.

Save for throwing myself against a tree or writhing along gravel, it seems I have no recourse but to allow the natural process of this shedding. Give the old skin time to work itself off. Be kind and loving and patient to the process. Honor the transformation.