always hoping it’s the last one

The time has come to tell some news. I am moving away from Austin on June 22.

I’ve lived here since late November, 2012 primarily because I just needed to be near my daughter and her family. They had just lost Gracie, and I had just lost everything, and I was afraid for my daughter and wanted to help her however I could — and for myself, I needed to be around family. But of course at first she had to help me. I told myself a happy little lie, then: I think it’s good for her, in the immediacy of her grief, to have to shop with me to set up a whole new life. I kind of believed it, until I would look at her shattered face and I knew what it was costing her, the life and energy she simply did not have but was mustering, for me. I made myself a solemn promise, then, that I would never again willingly put myself in a position to have to start over from scorched earth. Never again. I would not just walk away from the things of a life, sell them, throw them away, give them away, leave myself with a suitcase of clothes and nothing else, like Timid Frieda (there she goes / with her valises / held so tightly in her hand).

A few months later, Marc and I started trying to find a way to keep a version of our marriage going. We gradually found our way to the life I’ve been living ever since, the one where I live in two places, here in Austin for 18 days, there in NYC with him for 12. Big travels together three times a year. In most ways it was the best of all worlds: I still had my lovely little home (with time and space just for ME), my beloved daughter and her growing family just right there, my wonderful poetry group and various book clubs, and a host of dear friends, most especially including Nancy, who lives right next door and who has been one of the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. I got to be here through Katie’s pregnancy with Oliver, and then the start of his life; through her pregnancy with Lucy, and now her new life. I got to help them, hang out with them, be easy. I got to be with her and them as they found their way back to life, and as I did, too.

But it’s hard, it’s been hard. Constantly uprooting my life has taken a toll. An every-two-week reboot, for 4.5 solid years, exhausting. Neither Marc nor I seemed to want me to return to our very small apartment in New York, and I’d made that promise to myself.

My work has been so negligible and my income so unsteady, I was exploring all the possibilities since I didn’t feel like I could keep affording the place I’d rented all these years. Could I move in with Marnie and Tom? We had very sincere conversations about it, and I’ll never forget Tom’s quick, moist-eyed invitation, and the delight in Marnie’s eyes at the thought of a tiny house for me in their front yard. The beauty of getting to be Ilan’s everyday Pete, of being real help to my daughter, of making my own small contribution to her doing her work. Or could I just find a tiny little studio apartment here in Austin somewhere? Whatever happened, my life had to change, I had to move again. It would be move number 82. (I hope I don’t hit 100 before I die.)

Finally Marc proposed the most perfect idea, and it was like a clap of thunder in its clarity and obvious solution: we would buy a cabin in the Catskills and I would live there. He can come up on weekends — lots of people in the city do that — and I can go into NYC whenever I want, for however long, but my place of residence will be that house.

like paradise — I remember the chill in the summer air from the cold stream

When I was a little girl, and then a young woman reading the Foxfire books, I’d read about making baskets, for instance, using materials collected from nature. Only they were never materials that grew in Texas: they were cattails, and reeds, and grasses…..of a kind that grow in Appalachia. And the Catskills. So the place has lived in my imagination most of my life. When I moved to NYC in 2005, Marc and I made very regular pilgrimages upstate to a wonderful little town named Phoenicia, to see the autumn foliage, to see spring starting to emerge. The first time I went to Woodstock I saw that little cabin hanging out on a rock over a stream that I mentioned a short while ago, and oh how I wanted that little cabin. I wanted it into my bone marrow. In the years since, that has been my imaginary home. I’ve never wanted a mansion, never understood that desire: my imaginary home was a cabin, a bungalow, a small place of my very own.

And so I move into the option that feels just about as perfect as can be, my own home in the Catskills, just down the highway from Phoenicia. I can fly to see my Austin family and my Chicago family as regularly as I like and still not be as disrupted as I’ve been. I can make regular pilgrimages to them, stay with them a week at a time, each, and soak up those people I love so dearly…..without disrupting their lives so profoundly. Without having to lean on them when they are at this burgeoning and financially tight stage of their lives. I can drive into NYC, or take a bus or the train, at a moment’s notice. Finally, I won’t always be in the wrong place at the wrong time! I won’t miss the PEN Festival, the New Yorker Festival, performances I want to see. I can see Marc every single week — but as he said, we will each still have our own time and space. He needs that as much as I’ve learned that I do. And we will have an investment, instead of simply setting fire to money, as we’ve done on my rent ($75K while I’ve been here!).

I walk this road every single autumn. Every one, for the last 12 years. It looks like the street my new house is on.

Nearby Woodstock has a very vibrant arts community, and a glance at the Meetup groups suggests that I’ll find people pretty easily. Poets, writers, artists, performers, my tribe lives there too. Cold, snowy winters. Red-orange autumns. Chilly, wet springs. Green firefly-lit summers.

My life, how many different lives I’ve had. I never dreamed I would actually get to live in the Catskills, but here it comes. I never dreamed I could live there and in New York City — not individually, and certainly not both. My life has taught me so many things, including the fact that nothing at all is permanent (except, I think, my love for my kids). Who knows where else my life will take me before it’s all said and done, but while I am having the life I’m about to have, I look forward to eating it up. To watching closely as it changes day by day. To taking pictures, to hiking in the woods, to cozying up on snowy days or cross-country skiing off my deck and onto the trails crisscrossing the forest around our house. To Marc’s garden, that idea makes me giggle with happiness. To learning the names of birds, trees, plants, wildlife. To seeing black bears (lots of black bears apparently), bobcats, weasels, porcupines, coyotes, gray wolves, eastern coyotes, gray and red foxes, river otters, whitetail deer, ravens, crows, wild turkeys, great horned owls, screech owls, bald eagles, lots of songbirds. To the contrast between a real city and the most beautiful country, and to continuing to be dazzled in my beloved NYC. My daily life will be a great many things, including some icky aspects I don’t know about yet but I’m sure I’ll discover, and I look forward to all of them. I look forward to sharing it all here.

one of the two creeks in our back yard
The other of our two creeks
This shot from one corner of the deck shows the woods around the house, and the shape of the surrounding mountains.
The downstairs is a big, bright, open space — deck off the house to the right, the length of the house, a bright living room with lots of windows, a half bath, and a fabulous kitchen — wood burning stove in between. Upstairs, two bedrooms and one full bath. Full unfinished basement. Full attic too, for that matter.
Standing at the closest creek, that’s the back of the house
back corner
the front of the house (on a very overcast day!) — I want to plant flowers around the house, and maybe forsythia
Marc, standing on ground between the two creeks out back

Though I will be 100% thrilled to leave the most hateful state of Texas, I’ll be sorry to leave my friends in Austin, and hope to see people when I come back to visit Katie and family. I’ll be sorry to leave a great many aspects of Austin, and I’m so glad I moved here in 2012. In addition to all the reasons I’ve loved being here that relate to Katie, I learned so much here. I really learned how to make a life for myself, just for me. I learned that I love living alone. I learned how to do that, even. You have a standing invitation to come visit. There are three ski mountains VERY nearby (Hunter, Belleayre, and Windham), it’s gorgeous in the fall, and I have a spare bedroom.

Move #82. It’s gonna be OK.

Our home is in Big Indian, at the margin between Big Indian Wilderness and Catskills State Park (Big Indian is part of the park, just a distinct spot of its own….and how thrilling, “wilderness”!).
There it is in relation to the city — Catskills State Park is the large green area at the top of the picture, a 2.5-hour drive to NYC.

And very nearby our house is the trailhead for one of the best hikes in the Catskills, to Giant Ledge — five ledges, actually:

the view from Giant Ledge Trail

Wow. Bring it on, black bears and all.

(*This got real long, but I append a funny story about black bears, in case you’ve stuck it out to the bitter end. So there are a LOT of black bears in the Catskills. A lot. They’re not really a threat except during baby season, and then only if you get to close to babies and a mama gets scared. I was told I’d need to bring my bird feeders in every night, because the bears love them. [really???] And the realtor said that they’ll come right up on the deck; her husband opened the door one night and came face-to-face with a big black bear, and they both freaked out and ran. He said he’ll always remember two things: 1) how AWFUL it smelled, and 2) that its breathing was so loud and sounded like Darth Vader. He could still hear it breathing from a long way away. One woman frequently finds streaks of bear snot on her kitchen window, since she hangs a bird feeder there during the day. (?) So I guess if I’m ever sitting in my living room and see a pair of eyes on the deck and hear Darth Vader, I don’t need to be [too] afraid. 🙂 )

three things: 2/4/17

FEED: Franz Kline is usually thought of as a black and white painter (and in fact, one of my favorite of his paintings is black and white, I’ll show you after I show you this one), but he did some magnificent paintings with brilliant color. This one just dazzles my brain cells and makes me so happy.

I can’t find the title of this painting anywhere

See how important the grays are to the success of that painting? The brown slashes, the spits of charcoal? And the potency of those primary colors, the pureness of that red, that yellow, colors unresolvable to anything but themselves. Prime colors, I guess.

And here is the black and white one I love so much — it hangs at MoMA, and I took a selfie with it last Wednesday. I’m honestly not sure why I love it so much, but that doesn’t matter. Whenever I see it, my pulse quickens.

“Painting Number 2,” 1954, Franz Kline

SEED: SO! Anchoring the idea of ‘slow’ in my mind has been very helpful. I had just become so tizzified, so terrified, so frantic in my mind, and while I was extremely active during that period and not simply frantic, it was hard going. It was draining, exhausting, and I worried that like so many of my friends, I would get sick because of it. Because it’s true: so many of us are getting sick. Not just susceptible to colds, etc., and not just drifting into despair, but full-on sick. Unable to get out of bed, or to stay out of bed for long. I worried that would happen to me, too, given the intensity of my frantic tizzy.

What we’re doing is having an effect. Learning that has helped, too. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of a tyrant and his administration who are willing to overturn all the rules to do whatever they want, and who are fed by a man whose stated mission is to destroy the country, but what we are doing, we in the resistance, is having an effect. That helps.

June 28, 1969

I’m making three phone calls a day. I’m monitoring the actions of Congress and following exactly what our elected representatives are doing, how they’re caving or resisting, and keeping notes because we are going to have to elect new representatives, that has become clear. I’m reshaping my social world to include more women who are fighting alongside me, and letting go those whose votes have brought this world into being. I’m noting and scheduling into my calendar every possible march and protest, and attending them. Today, for instance, is the LGBT rally at Stonewall, which is the birthplace of the gay rights movement in this country. Read the history here. I can’t wait to stand alongside everyone at that rally. Those experiences energize me and keep me able to fight and persist.

I’m going on Facebook only in the morning, for no more than half an hour, and my posts are now more pointed. Less hysterical. And I try to include at least one thing to give us a smile, we in the resistance who need a smile so desperately. Fight on, sisters, we will prevail. Slow news, slow thoughtfulness, slow reshaping of your world to help you fight.

Required reading for every American

READBetween the World and Me is as good as the reviews and press have claimed, and it’s very hard to read. Not in the sentences — the sentences and prose are quite good, evocative, clear, powerful, hard. But it’s very hard to read because of the truth of it, and the resulting overwhelm. I have participated in Black Lives Matter marches and rallies, and I’ve stood there knowing that I don’t and can’t know what it is to be black, but ready to try to know, and to fight. I’ve fought with people who tell the lie that “all lives matter,” always with bewilderment. WHEN black lives matter, THEN all lives will matter. And right now black lives don’t matter. The thing that is so difficult about Between the World and Me is that he does such a good job of showing the complete pervasiveness of racism. The murderous cops aren’t even the problem; it’s the society that invests them with the right, the history that endows them with the purpose. It’s like dropping some ink into a vessel of water, and when it’s completely dispersed, trying to pull out the ink. You can’t. The water is permanently changed. Our very ground is built on the racist murder of black bodies, our wealth, our heritage, our worldviews, and I’m left having no idea how we change this. I’m about 60% of the way through the book so I hope Coates offers some ideas, although it’s also up to me to find ideas.

One point Coates makes so poignantly is that slavery is not a thing, it is personal. It’s a specific woman who had a specific life, and who had hopes and thoughts. It’s a specific man, a specific child, a specific family, all with names and bodies. (Eric Reidy makes a similar point about refugees in this must-read piece.) It’s easy to paint with a flat brush and talk about the “institution” of slavery, but that erases all the lives of those enslaved people. In this country, we enslaved black people for 250 years. They have not yet been free for that many years.

At the giant march and rally last Sunday that started at Battery Park, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, I stood among tens of thousands of people of all hues of skin color, most of whom were holding signs about the anti-Muslim ban. And I stood next to a black woman. I wondered if she felt betrayed, because where are the crowds of this size rallying against the ongoing murder of black people for the crime of being black, for driving, for walking, for holding their hands up in the air when demanded? Yes, some white people march and rally, but in small groups, and only after the most egregious of murders. But innocent murder is innocent murder is innocent murder, and we just aren’t responding the same way for black lives — because we shrug. And we too-quickly think well, the police force has problemsThe problem is with police training, etc etc etc. Maybe we allow ourselves to think that because at some level we know how vast the problem is and in the face of that overwhelm, it’s easier just to point at the symptom.

As I’m reading, I find myself thinking Yes, this is terrible and we have to do something but right now the whole place is going up in flames and so for right now we just need to….. X….Y…..Z. And that’s not completely untrue, but at the same time it’s a part of the complexity of our country, a country filled with enough nasty voters to bring the new administration into power, and so it’s another piece we need to understand. Read Between the World and MeYou will be uncomfortable, and we all should be.

I agree with Bannon about one thing: this country does need to be destroyed started over. We do need to do that. Of course I differ with him completely on the methods and what the reboot would look like, but what we have become—and it’s a direct arrow from where and how we began—is deadly and terrible.

BONUS: Check out this link, a crowd-sourced collection of relevant books, movies, TV, podcasts, and other things (including some under the category of “escapism”) that will help us all at this particular cultural and political moment. I found lots of good stuff, and I imagine you will, too.

four things: 1/4/17

1)   When you are trained to do research, you learn to “operationalize the variables.” What exactly do you mean by a term, in measurable detail? What score, what specific behaviors, what specific frequency, etc.? Maybe “depression” means “at least 6 items on this 10-item list within the last two weeks” or “a score of 70+ on the Depression Scale.” It’s the bringing-down-to-earth of lofty questions to answerable definitions, and it usually drives the interesting right out. You start off wanting to study big things, like why some people survive, and by the time the variables are operationalized, you’ve got 18-year-old college freshmen sitting in lab rooms stacking pennies against a timer, or something. Still, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I saw this and after my initial positive impulse I realized I could operationalize these variables! Here we go!

Stop doing shit I hate: a quick and simple ‘no thanks’ works! I’ve been getting better at this, especially since I learned that it’s best not to give a reason (which just invites a counter-expectation and then a trapped feeling). No, I can’t, thanks for the invitation I hope you have fun! My friend Deb says, “Apologies, that’s not going to work for me” and just keeps going. It really disrupts the excuse paradigm, and people just say OK. Since my time in Austin is so limited, I can (with flexibility) choose how many things I have time to do during an Austin time, and then only say yes to that number. It’ll mean saying no more often, but that would be good for me because I end up feeling overwhelmed by trying to squeeze everything in, leaving me little time just to myself — which is important, because the whole time I’m in NY I don’t have a moment of silence for myself.

Love my body more: Four words: daily moisturizing, morning/night. I’d like to add ‘shutting down talking smack about myself’ but (a) I’m already getting better at that and (b) I want to operationalize this, make it simple and schedule-able. Who knows, once I get used to this one and it’s habit, I might add in all kinds of operationalized ways to love my body more. And then I might end up really loving it. 🙂

Love louder: I did this great 40-day project a few years ago that included a morning email, one each morning, to a different person telling them what they meant to me. That’s a way to love louder, tell people why you love them, what they mean to you. It shocks the hell out of them when they get it. Someone turned around and wrote one back to me and it shocked the hell out of me! I sat down and made my list, first, and then the email just took me a few minutes each morning. And the best thing was that it also started my own day off so wonderfully — a two-fer. That’s one way I can love louder, and it can go right into my calendar. “Love louder, check!”

Anyway, that’s the general idea. Specifics, measurable, broken down to a checklist-type action. You might also see this kind of thing and think yeah, I want that but then you get up the next day and it’s another old day. Operationalize! Bring it down to specific actions.

2) On being a Scheduler-Deluxe. Well, shoot. So I have these Excel Spreadsheet TendenciesTM that start off with the best, most orderly intentions of Fitting More Into My Day/Life. (Also TM.) I want to see all my people, read more books, do daily activism (fight the power! down with the man! fuck trump!!), love louder, exercise, write my book every day, etc etc etc. My first impulse is to create a spreadsheet….no wait, one for each day of the week! An Excel book of seven spreadsheets, each tab a unique color! And as long as I’m doing that, set it up like a calendar, in hour-slots….no wait, half-hour….15 minute slots! And then I can just put these things in so it all gets done! (And as long as I’m doing that, I can add in food/weight/exercise/stats and then connect them to charts and graphs on a separate sheet, and I can analyze….) When I was 18, I worked for a consulting firm that required us to log our time in 6-minute slots, and we all complained bitterly — “8:06-8:12 went to the damn bathroom.” Maybe that’s the origin of my tendencies, but the bad thing is that they start with good intentions and it’s just too much, too tight, and so of course I bail pretty quickly.

THIS. I DO THIS.

I’m not going to do this. This is ridiculous. When I was in college, I was a research assistant to this beautiful woman from India, Preeti, who wrote by hand on a legal pad everything she needed to do, task-focused, crossing them off when she finished. The next day, she drew a strong line and then recopied the undone ones and added new ones. It was a lot of recopying — very inefficient, unlike a good spreadsheet! — but maybe something about handwriting a thing over and over makes you finally get sick enough of it to do the damn thing. Maybe I’ll try something like that. Given the full-on failure of my memory at this stage of my life, I have to write down what I want to do, or I won’t remember I want to do it. I aspire to bullet journaling but it feels overwhelming to learn how. I can just sketch out a week by hand in my beautiful moleskine and then simply list the week’s to-dos in a more normal way. Just be more normal, Queen, sheesh. My planning impulse (born of and reinforced by my years in college and graduate school while raising three kids) is so automatic, my mind is spinning with ways to approach this. Sunday evenings, plan my week so it’s humane and I get done the things I want to get done, on purpose. Do you have a way that works for you? I’m running out of time to just drift through my days.

3) This morning I’m going to the quiet morning at MoMA and I intend to be slow, still, quiet, fully present. Which means that, at a bare minimum, I’m going to silence my phone and leave it in my purse. It might mean that I even leave it at home, although after days of rainy, gloomy, truly miserable weather, it’s supposed to be a bit more blue-skied, and so I might wander home through Central Park afterwards, and want to take some photos. Anyway. Slow, quiet, art, meditation, silence, MoMA, a sure-fire cure for the blues, at least in those precious 15-minute segments. 🙂 When I lived here full-time, I always had a membership to MoMA and I sometimes walked there on my lunch break when I worked at Oxford University Press, always giddy that I COULD WALK THERE ON MY LUNCH BREAK. I’m so grateful to get to be in NYC on such a regular basis, grateful to Marc for making it happen in all the ways he does.

4) I love Lucille Clifton:

each morninig i pull myself
out of despair

from a night of coals and a tongue
blistered with smiling

the step past the mother bed
is a high step

the walk through the widow’s door
is a long walk

and who are those voices calling
from every mirrored thing

say it coward say it

rumbles

Tectonic plates shifting, that’s the image I keep getting as I think quietly about this change I feel — a change you aren’t aware of, but you are if you come back here to see if I’ve posted and then see that I haven’t. For people with my particular struggle, going dark like this might mean depression is lurking around in the dark corners, but this has nothing whatever to do with depression. And thank heavens for that. I mean it, I’m so grateful not to be depressed.

Instead, I’ve been going through a tremendous shift that has very much to do with telling on/about myself. It has mattered to me a lot to tell my own story, which I’ve done relentlessly for more than a decade, now; I can’t remember exactly when I started blogging, but it was in the LiveJournal days….oh, wow. Anything you want, and everything you’ve ever done, can be found online, and I just found mine. I started my LiveJournal on March 3, 2004 (here’s my profile, wow, that’s amazing, and my posts here). No need to look at the posts, because they cover the same major themes and topics back then that I still write about. My kids and I all started them at the same time, because the girls were off in college and we figured it was a way we could easily keep up with each others’ lives, and then when we spoke on the phone we could talk about the big stuff, with the little stuff already shared and covered.

Writing like this stuck with me, and I moved away from LiveJournal to a blog called Out of a Stormy Sleep, which I then transitioned over to Thrums, and had to hide that one because of the creepy stalker who sued me, so I came here, to my pillbug palace. I’ve said everything I have to say, over and over and over and over and over.

But that isn’t why I’ve been quiet — because God knows, the mere fact that I’ve already said something several times didn’t stop me any of those instances, right? I’ll say it again. Instead, I’m having a big shift to wanting to hold my own thoughts and experiences for myself, and to share them in a different way, a closer way, a more personal way.

This change also goes along with another shift involving other people. I kind of atomize myself and spray outwards, falling on anyone who will accept my presence. I have a lot of friends in Austin, and that’s great, but it feels unwieldy, it feels like I can’t keep up, and because I’m gone so much, the connections remain relatively shallow. My “book club” has disintegrated because really, almost none of them wanted to read books, and absolutely not the books I want to read. Without that central pole of “book club” holding us together, I think we’ve drifted apart into our friend-pairs and that’s a change — but one that goes with this deeper change I’m feeling, too.

As autumn approaches, a time that feels more focused and ‘serious,’ the mindful focus I’ve been working on the last couple of years turns toward my social connections, and by extension, toward the way I share myself. I do want a book club, but this time I will create one from a thoughtful place instead of “hey I want a book club, everyone in the pool who wants in!” And to be fair, when I first moved to Austin and had to create a world from scratch, and didn’t know anyone other than my kids, I did the best I could — and my poetry group worked out beautifully.

And so I will be letting a bunch of acquaintances continue to drift away in their own streams and I’ll dig my own stream a bit deeper. I’ll share myself more discriminantly, not with groups (with one exception), but instead with a few very good friends and thus deepen those relationships. That just sounds so good, and less frantic.

I’m not sure what it means for this blog. I’m certainly not shutting it down, and I’m not making any claims for what I will and won’t be doing with it. I’m also feeling kind of social-media-fractured, between Instagram where I love sharing photos, and Facebook where I love sharing funny or moving things, or recommendations, and Goodreads, where I loving keeping notes on books I read. And in all those cases, I really enjoy friends’ photos, and friends’ posts.

Mostly, I’m leaving this post here by way of explanation. I’m still here and will still be here, I’m just shifting things around and trying to figure things out. Some of my friends are so far away I only share my life and keep up with theirs in this online way, and to lose these forms would be to lose those connections…..and that feels like a loss I want to avoid.

Anyway. Still here, still changing, still figuring it all out. xoxo

silence and thinking

So obviously I’m having a hard time coming here to write. I think the truth is that I’m in a bit of discomfort with an unexpected consequence of the changes I made more than a year ago. Most of the consequences have been remarkable, and positive, and self-reinforcing. But you know what’s really weird? The quiet inside me doesn’t feel uniformly good. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising — nothing is uniformly one thing — but still, it surprises me.

I’ve been waiting, letting this discomfort be, because for all I know it’s just that I’m not used to peace! I’m not, that’s true. So prolonged periods of peace and quiet make my nerve endings start to itch just a little bit. I don’t want to stir up trouble, it isn’t that; it’s more like I’m waiting for that shoe to drop, the one that hangs over my head like a piano dangling on a hair-width thread. I’ve been just letting this discomfort be as I adjust to this new version of normal. Of course the shoe drops in everyone’s life, and it will drop again in mine, and that is just the truth of the world. Just like breathing, and loving, and laughing.

Another aspect of it is that inner quiet, in my life’s experience, has come along with the black dog of depression. One version of it brings a blank mind, a blank heart, that kind of bleak emptiness that isn’t the huge pain of other versions, but is its own kind of pain. I’m not depressed, but that quiet has always been part of that depression — so I have also been just letting it be so I can learn a new association with it, break the link that inner quiet EQUALS depression. I wondered if, with enough time, I wouldn’t still have that whispered wondering . . . no, my quiet is just quiet. It isn’t that depression is slouching around in the corners. It’s just quiet.

And maybe it’s also just so incredibly new, even as it’s been part of my inner make-up for just over a year now. So in a 57-year life, one year has been quiet inside, but the other 56 were thrashing! I have so much experience with a frenzied inner life, a racing mind, and only one year of experience with this quiet. Just because it’s generally good, that doesn’t mean it’s immediately and happily incorporated. It’s like walking around with a quiet little pea in my shoe.

So I feel unsettled a little bit. I still feel suspicious of it, a little bit. I frown, turn my head slightly and squint my eyes out of the left corner as if I can get a closer look. What is this? My old-style thoughts arise, thoughts I have neurotically chased around trees, around and around and around, but they now seem obvious, already understood, trivial, temporary, unimportant, whatever. Bubbles.

I have a couple of little thoughts to share, recommendations, etc., so here goes:

  • Make this recipe immediately. Use fresh corn on the cob if it’s available — in a pinch you can use frozen, if it’s winter for instance, but the fresh corn really makes it. Fresh lime juice. Good avocados. Cilantro. Red peppers. Olive oil. Black beans. Garlic and shallots. My goodness. Everyone I make it for goes nuts for it (not my recipe, I just follow the instructions), and it’s so so easy to make. You can also add some sliced cherry tomatoes if you like, I’ve done that and it’s good, but all the variations I’ve tried have not improved the original recipe. I’m not even a fan of red bell pepper but it’s so great in this recipe. Dang. And yum.
  • I always feel a bit anxious saying something about “who I am” because it might just be my little fantasy of who I am, and maybe your eyes will grow wide and you’ll think, seriously?? You are the opposite of that! I thought about this when I saw a man I know post something on Facebook about how being a gentleman is a matter of choice, and he makes that choice every day. Eyes wide, right here. I met him when I first moved to Austin and was as devastated as I could be. We met in a social group and he started hitting on me, HARD, and I told him I was only looking for friends, absolutely nothing more. He agreed and said he was too, and then he went right back to groping me. And every time we were in the same space he groped me. Once he just showed up at my house uninvited and unannounced. Perhaps we just have different meanings for that word. (But seriously, if I ever do that, just nudge me and say, “eyes wide right here” or something.)
a glimpse of the timeline view
a glimpse of the timeline view
  • I have a fabulous gratitude app to recommend! It’s called DayOne, and it’s free, and I’ve used it for the last 229 days, ever since Laura recommended it to me. I loved the old one I used, but the site closed down. One thing I love about DayOne is that, since it’s a phone app, you have the ease of adding a photo to each day’s entry. The photo doesn’t necessarily have to be the thing you’re noting gratitude for, of course (took me a long time to realize that, silly). You can also tag each entry, so if, for instance, I want to see all the posts I’ve written noting gratitude for Katie, I can tap that tag and see them one after another. It’s fantastic, no kidding.

My bad tummy the whole time in NYC was probably due to the fact that I ate 30 pounds of Marc’s amazing homemade pickles. Plus two pounds of his gravlax. And otherwise, I ate nothing but enormous raw salads — his Greek salad three times, huge chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes and onions, with dill and pepperoncinis and olive oil and kalamatas, and feta; his amazing Caesar salad twice, with homemade dressing, that coddled egg, lots of garlic, and fresh parmigiana, and anchovy, and olive oil. Morning green smoothies, yeah, but otherwise it was just lots and lots of cucumbers in various forms. (Seriously, I ate 30 pounds of pickles. I’m not kidding about that.)

Aside from that, here are a few pictures of the last few days of my life:

driving home from Dallas under that huge blue sky
I just never, ever get tired of a Texas sky. Never.
after all the pickles, it’s a relief to juice — this was carrots, cucumbers, celery, ginger, strawberries, and a dash of turmeric.
the reason for my quick round-trip to Dallas — lunch with my beautiful, dear Dixie and her daughter and grandchildren. Plus her husband, taking the picture, and her father-in-law. It was a table full of beauty. (And aren’t I a giant?)

OK, so HI, I’ve missed you, I’ve missed wanting and needing to write, and I hope you’re having a good Saturday. Hope to write again soon. xoxoxoxoL

contradictions

Time to snip the tiniest little bit from Leaves of Grass (go here to read it in full if you don’t own a copy, but I recommend you have your own copy — with you, always):

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Even though I love this poem, and this bit of it specifically, and even though I believe it as one of the truest things I know, I still struggle to remember it, because my multitudes frequently contradict each other and pull at me and my sense of identity: I’m this. I’m that. No wait, I’m this.

blue moonThe evening of the blue moon, I had an extraordinary experience and I’m not sure how to talk about it. I’m not even sure of the meaning yet, so I’m not ready to talk about that aspect either. But essentially it was a deeply spiritual experience, and it required me to be open to the world in a specific way that has sadly become uncomfortable to me since I entered my PhD program back in 2000. It was led by a friend of mine who has strong Native American Alaska Athabascan heritage, and it drew, I believe, on many of the rituals and songs of her culture. Her incredible use of her drum and rattles, and burning sage, and whooshing wind from a feather fan, and her amazingly strong voice singing and calling — all while our eyes were covered as we sat outside in the dark — was disorienting and deeply personal and moving.

As I drove home later, thinking about everything that had happened within me, I was trying to reconcile being a logical, rational person trained in the scientific method, and a spiritual person open to the larger world that goes far beyond that. I found myself thinking, “Oh, I’ll be that flowing spiritual person.” [silly] The funny thing is that I have no problem appreciating the flowing-together of science and spirituality. Richard Feynman said,

I have a friend who’s an artist…He’ll hold up a flower and say…”I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty…I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more…I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty… The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color…the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds.

I believe that! With all my heart! It’s my own very regular experience, even. I’m not sure why my default automatic response is to insist on either-or categories, when a moment’s reflection reminds me that there are so few absolutes I believe in that I can’t even think of one at the moment.

It’s funny how my mind moves out to the superficial when I encounter a conflict like this — kind of ‘presentation of self’ stuff. I’m pretty smart and thoughtful and love talking about big things, love extremely intelligent people, and feel most comfortable there. So when I came face to face with my openness to a more spiritual world, my superficial thoughts were about how to dress. Loose, flowy, specific jewelry and hair vs more tailored. Isn’t that silly? I think it’s just a top-level entry to bringing myself to thinking about how these different ways of approaching the world can live together in a deeper way. My kind of clothes with specific jewelry and hair. Rational and intelligent and scientifically minded and open and understanding Big Things that you come to through ritual and guides.

One clear thing that happened in that experience kind of cracked my heart, and I can talk about it. So very clearly I saw that I’m a tightly closed person, tense, scared. It surprised me (and it surprised me how true it is) because this is an area in which I have grown  so much. When I started therapy in New York back in 2005, my primary goal was to stop being a terrified person in the world. So when you are at, say, 0% of something, 50% looks amazingso dazzling you can hardly believe it. But it’s only 50%, it’s not time to stop. I have a lot of opening to do. I have a lot of guards to let down.

Perhaps my friends and loved ones would argue with me, no, you’re not closed, you’re open. But maybe they wouldn’t (except for Dixie of course, who loves me with soul-filled eyes and heart). Maybe they’re aware of my tightly guarded borders. Luckily I have people in my life who model the very parts of myself I’m struggling to become and remain open to. We’re all our own unique combination of bits, and contradictions, and so none of my models have the same amalgam of things I do, but that’s more than fine.

Thanks, beautiful blue moon, and thank you, my friend, and there’s nothing to wait for anymore. Time to do it.

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“be a person who”

Zoolander always makes me think of my son
Zoolander always makes me think of my son

I know this is a regular theme of mine, but it amazes me so much I keep finding my way to a surprised reflection on it: I hardly recognize myself.

  • I exercise every single day, at least once — yoga and/or walking and/or strength training.
  • I am a vegetarian (though when I’m in NYC and my husband cooks, it’s hard hard hard).
  • I have a tan. (The least important of these changes, but the most remarkable for eternally lily-white me. This is mostly due to my ease with my body, now, so my willingness to be outside in a bathing suit.) (Plus, I think the daily dose of sun has been great for my spirits.)
  • I start every day with a green smoothie, and now I also have a juicer.
  • I meditate regularly.
  • And then these two, which are in a different category but all of a piece with the whole:
    • I’m not motivated to hide my smarts any more.
    • I have more friends than I have time to be with, and a rich social life.

NONE of that was ever true for me, ever. Ever. Not once in my 56 years of life. In fact, the inverse of those things has been true. It’s so weird, and since I think a lot about change, I’m kind of fascinated by how it has happened — especially since it has stuck for an uninterrupted year, and the changes are expanding, and my very sense of myself has changed.

Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach
Jeff, my VERY sweet and deeply thoughtful health coach

It’s easy to say that my food-related shifts are due to working with Jeff, my health coach, but he would insist — and I’d have to agree, now — that he facilitated something I was really ready to do. I’d become so overwhelmed and frustrated and anxious about everything having to do with food, I had no idea how to eat any more, and I was tired of yo-yoing. Up 50 lbs, down 50 lbs, repeat. Just so tired of that. And with eight little words from him, everything changed: You can eat ALL the fruits and vegetables. Of course it was more than that, it was having him to talk to about it, and even just deciding to pay someone to help me with it, but that eight-word sentence started a shift.

I think if I’d just “decided to become a vegetarian,” I might’ve done that for a while and then drifted back to unhealthy eating, my life-long M.O. But then, once that change was underway, I was a vegetarian who also started each day with a green smoothie. A person who bought a VitaMix. A person who stopped at JuiceLand for a treat, instead of the grocery store for a pint of ice cream. (Though on occasion it’s still a treat!) In talking with Jeff about health in general, I started moving more, I got off the couch. I finally listened to my own self — Lori, you love yoga, just do some damn yoga. And after a bit, I bought myself a very nice yoga mat and some blocks. And after a few weeks of using a free app on my phone for yoga routines, I signed up for YogaGlo, an inexpensive monthly subscription to hundreds of online classes. Well, by this time I was a person who ate all the fruits and vegetables, started the day with a green smoothie, did yoga, and then I started walking more regularly.

All those incremental shifts accumulated and settled into place, and became habit. I grew into a person who did those things. A person whose life held those habits. And when you’re a person with those habits, other habits make great sense and fall into place more easily. Now I’m also a person who owns a juicer! I’m about to become a person who bicycles, as soon as I find a bike. Now I’m a person who lives a healthy, conscious, engaged life.

And so I’m wondering about this construct, “being a person who….”. I wonder if change happens more deeply if we have a different view of ourselves as a person, so perhaps a kind of top-down shift. (Although my shift was definitely bottom-up, beginning with one tiny change that collected others in the neighborhood.) Maybe the issue is that once that top-down understanding has arrived, the rest is easy and the change is permanent. I no longer feel like I’m resisting my old self — a feeling I had for several months as I started making these small changes.

Maybe you want to be “a person who makes a difference in the world.” Maybe you want to be “a person whose life is creative.” Or “a person who draws people together for art/music/poetry.” I don’t know, I’m just brainstorming. But I wonder about this; would it be different if you signed up to volunteer somewhere as opposed to wanting to be “a person who makes a difference in the world” — and then perhaps signs up to volunteer somewhere? Maybe your own understanding of what you’re doing would matter, would help you persist through disappointment or frustration.

If you aren’t all that happy with the way you’re living your life — and let’s just say in this general domain, for the sake of discussion — what would it mean to you to be a person who lived a healthy life? It might look very different from my version. I wonder if starting with that question and then just plucking different elements to work with would be helpful? Hmmm. I think I’ll do that with myself on another topic, now that I think about it. So I think this becomes less about change, and more about growth.

I remember when I was staying at home with baby Katie, and one day as I was making the beds and planning to clean bathrooms, I thought, so this is my life, making beds and cleaning bathrooms — but immediately after that I realized no, my life is making a cozy home for my dear family. The big-picture view instead of the foot-level view.

Anyway. If you live in Austin and know someone who wants to sell a bike, I’m all ears.