Tuesday, January 24, 2012


The tides of winter are exposing more of the sea bed than the tides of summer. In the summer I only caught glimpses of the rusting bones of the jetty to the south. I didn't know the treasure she was hiding at her feet. Muscles and barnacles, I expected, but the more pronounced low tides have pulled the shoreline back so far off the beach that I can walk almost to the end of the jetty. Baring themselves to the sunshine of winter are hundreds of sea anemones, their sticky fingers encrusted with broken shells. Sea stars of rainbow hue adorn the base of the rocks, and if you begin to climb the rocks you can just catch a glimpse of the sideways scamper of tiny crabs wedging themselves into rock crevices for safe-keeping.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Tidal pools hold a fascination for me. I am particularly entertained by the crabs scampering on the rocks or the hermit crabs carrying their homes on their backs inside the small pools of water the tides have left behind. No matter how many times I do it, I still get a child-like thrill out of sticking my finger into a sea anemone and watching it close around me. Today hundreds of clams no bigger than my smallest finger nail peek up from under the sandy shoreline around the jetty. So much treasure revealing itself to the sun.

Sometimes I feel like those tidal pools. Like I keep so much under wraps all the time that I startle people when circumstances draw me out into the sun. Like my high school biology teacher who after seeing me dance in the school talent show my senior year said, "I knew you could dance, but I didn't know you could DANCE!" Or the mildly awed faces of my students and their parents when I got up and sang a Broadway standard at their graduation dinner. They didn't see that one coming. Or when I tell people that I spent two years working in investment banking in New York. That one really throws a curve ball. Needless to say, when people ask me what I do, it's not a quick story.

And then there is my name, and I'm not talking about my married name--that people seem to get with no problem. It's my first name. Is it Kate or Kathleen? My birth certificate says Kathleen, but my nickname for most of my life has been Kate. My father was pretty adamant about that growing up. No one called me Kathy except my father's brother who did it perhaps to irritate my father. When I moved to Los Angeles, Kate just didn't seem to fit. And since no one really knew me, I started introducing myself as Kathleen. But I couldn't get it to stick. Then I had my daughter, and I tried again. I introduced myself at Mommy groups and in my new neighborhood as Kathleen. This time it took. But every time my husband would call me "Kate" in front of these new friends, I would watch the puzzled expressions on their faces. Often I would be asked which was my name.

The answer, like the one about what I do, is that I am all of them, including Katie, the affectionate name my younger sister gave me when we were growing up and that I am now called by my nephews. I am KatieKateKathleen. I shift between the subtleties of their energies seamlessly.

Photo by Kathleen Keagy
Kate is the top of that jetty. When you first meet me, you are likely to meet Kate. She is organized and efficient. Kate likes to order what she sees and builds structures to contain the whole.

Kathleen is passionate, digging deep in search of treasure. She is the mother-healer who can see what is hidden. Kathleen is soft-bellied like a crab and hides in dark, cave-like places for safety when the world is too much.

Katie is playful, child-like, and free-spirited. She invents without effort, likes to throw all the cards in the air just to see what happens, and joys in friendly competition. She is the one who never tires of sticking her finger in the sea anemone. How do they do that? Why do they do it? Why? Why? Why? is Katie's mantra as her curiosity carries her away on yet another adventure.

It is Katie's energy that feels potent for me at the moment. I want to play. Kate has been wearing the yoke of responsibility around her neck since childhood. I am hunched over from fulfilling other people's expectations. Kathleen has been digging in cavernous places, writing to reveal and heal what is buried. But I am sick and pale from so much grief.

I want to play in the light of day. I want to play hopscotch and jump rope and get my shoes all wet from running in the surf. And I want to do it without worrying about what happens if I do. Because I know very well that I will have to stuff my shoes with newspaper when I am done, but I now have enough experience to know that it is worth it. It is worth it to make a bit of a mess on your way to creating something new and joyful. The answers don't need to come of effort and strain. They can appear out of play and fun.

It's time for me to get out of the boxes--to embrace dichotomies, to honor fluidity, shapeshifting, and change. Who am I? I am KatieKateKathleen, and every shade in between.

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