Letters as a Meditation

If we are friends on Facebook you might be aware of my daily “Creekside Chat” videos. I’m really enjoying making them — just a few minutes of conversation about something, and a reading on Sundays — because they give me a feeling of conversation with friends. This morning I talked about something that I thought I’d mention here, because I had a lot more thought about it than I mentioned in that short video. (I do try to keep those short, three minutes or so, but sometimes they stretch to five and I don’t want to push that.)

I’ve mentioned this here before, too, so I’ll just briefly mention it and move forward. Several years ago in the context of a personal restoration project, for 40 days I wrote an email to a different person in my life, telling them what they meant to me. It turned out to be a much bigger gift to me than to the 40 people who received surprise emails, although their responses showed me what a gift it was to them, to hear what they meant to someone . . . and that’s a gift I know too, from the times it has happened to me.

But you know, there are all kinds of people in our lives. When I was talking, in my Creekside Chat, I started thinking about my dad when I talked about the importance of knowing what we mean to others. For the briefest moment I had the automatic cliched thought we have about suicides — oh, if only he’d known what he meant to us maybe he wouldn’t have killed himself. But so quickly on the heels of that thought came the truth: he was a nightmare in my life. I was pregnant with my first child and knew that I couldn’t allow him to be alone with her, ever, and that was going to be awful, handling that. He wore me out, calling me drunk in the middle of nights ready to kill himself, me dancing as fast as I could trying once again to talk him out of it. His not-at-all contained rage and fury, terrorizing all of us. He broke his wife’s arm in their last fight. He spent his entire adult life trying to die, and it often felt like he wanted to take out as many people as he could in the effort. I very barely survived him, and it took me more than 30 years after his death to recover from the 23 years he was in my life.

As we drove the five hours from Austin to Tyler, the day he killed himself, his sister and I were complaining bitterly about him because we knew he was going to ruin their mother’s birthday (and of course he did — he killed himself on her birthday, a second act of cruelty to go along with the note he left blaming me). We said we wished he’d just go ahead and do it. We meant that. I meant that.

And of course he is the most extreme example of what I’m getting at, but the fact is that I couldn’t possibly write a letter to him that would feel good to him, and be honest. It would be a kind of ‘damning with faint praise’ thing. When my stepfather was dying, in prison, I was able to write a letter to him, a very brief one, and I thanked him for sneaking a milkshake to me once when Mother forbid me to have any food because I was a fat cow. He did that at great personal risk. Since he had written me a note asking forgiveness for the years of rape, and he gave me a small gift he’d made in prison, I found it (shockingly) simple enough to forgive, and to write that letter. It felt like quite a thing, that out of the 20+ years of knowing him, I had only one very small thing to say thanks for, but it was very heartfelt, my gratitude for that milkshake. I had remembered it for decades.

In a much more ordinary way, there are people in our lives whose friendship is fraught in ways that would make it harder to write an email of gratitude — like the no-longer-friend who relished my trouble and resented my happiness. Because, you know, we all have friendships of varying depth, or varying closeness. We have friends we count on in times of trouble, friends who really see us, friends who are just light and somewhere between acquaintance and friend, friends who we just expect to listen to because they have no interest in listening to us, friends whose gifts come with such very long strings that you want to refuse them. I’m thinking about taking up my daily email project again, and thinking about this more difficult category of friend, in particular — thinking about how hard it would be to find enough of substance to say in an email. But maybe there is greatest value in writing those emails, in particular. Maybe for me, having to really dig deep and look, and think; having to search a little harder; maybe that will help me value those friendships more. (Or maybe the effort will help me let go of the relationships!) And maybe for those individuals, receiving an email that came from a deeper search — that will locate those core gifts — will be more meaningful than the easier emails that relish the loud, visible gifts. I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it.

Dixie (and her mother) calls this “giving flowers to the living,” which is the whole idea in five simple words — why I’m not a poet, I need hundreds when five do the job so beautifully. That’s a great aim for today. You don’t have to do the deep hard work of finding words for the more difficult person today. Just today, just with an easy person, maybe, tell them what they mean to you. Tell them the gift they are to your life. Tell them in writing, so they can keep it. I’m still glowing from the note I found waiting for me when I woke up, and I will glow all day long. When my memory fades, as it’s guaranteed to do because ME-NOW, I can open it and read it again.

Yep. I think I’m going to start writing those letters again. I’d love to have your email address. If you don’t have mine, there’s an envelope icon in the right sidebar (in the “Find me elsewhere!” section) you can click on to email me.


no one is luckier than me

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

love the life I’ve been given to live. I love where I came from, the hard dirt and big skies and pump jacks and men on horses and nothing more than what was needed. I love that I survived unimaginable horrors and lived long enough to look at them with new eyes. I love the love I’ve been given, and the love I was lucky enough to give. I love that I had my three beautiful children, and I love the way I struggled so hard to raise them with only lint in my pockets and screams in my mind. I love the long road I’ve been on that has taken me almost everywhere in Texas, and to Connecticut, and Virginia, and Alabama, and Arkansas, and several places in the state of New York, and New Jersey, and soon to the Catskills. I love the places I have been lucky enough to see in this world, and the surprise of finding homes in so many places — Hanoi, the Mekong Delta, Laos, Bali, Paris, Scotland, Greece. I love the little girl I was, and admire no person on earth more than her.

I love that books mean so much to me, and that I have been lucky enough to love so many. And poetry, I’m so grateful it belongs to me too. I love that words are my gift. And I love that I was born with talented hands, hands that weave cloth and spin yarn, that knit beautiful garments, that hand stitch beautiful quilts, that made my children’s clothes, that make bread and delicious food, and a spirit that tells me I can make anything at all.

I love that it’s been hard sometimes because I learned I was harder, even if that meant I was curled up and hiding. I love the accidents that meant I survived even myself. I love horny toads and pillbugs, and dinosaurs and trilobytes and clouds. I love most of the people I’ve met along the way, and if friendships had their season I loved them during that season. I love the ones that persist and that I still carry along with me wherever I go.

I love that I’ve been given the gift of noticing, the gift of easy happiness. I love the smell of rain on dirt, and snow cone juice dripping down my arm. I love biscuits and gravy, pintos and cornbread. I love yellow squash and onions, and fried okra.

I love my Katie’s quiet smile and deep wisdom, and her delight in her children, and her dry sense of humor that’s so much like her dad’s. I love my Marnie’s fierce intelligence and laugh that’s like bubbles, and her adoration of her son. I love Will’s smile and laugh and intelligence and humor, and hope that one day I will be lucky enough to share it with him again. I love Oliver, with his sweet thick lisp and his ‘Hi Pete,’ and his big smile. I love Lucy, with her loud voice and soft coloring and the way she bursts with joy and spreads it all around her. I love Ilan, with his curiosity and gorgeous smile and cuddly love. I love my sons-in-law and can’t believe how good my daughters were at picking husbands and fathers for their children; they did not learn that from me.

I love that there are people all over the world who pause and send me notes when they see something about a donut, or a pussy hat, or something they know I love. I LOVE THAT. I love that there are people all over the world who watch over me, somehow, who send me notes at the right moment, somehow, and who send me books like this, from the Paris Flea Market, because Catherine knows what Quasimodo and Notre Dame have meant to my life. She saw it, thought of me, and SENT IT. All of this says everything about you, not me.

I’m even lucky to have been tenderized SO HARD by the events of my life, and by my life-long struggles with worthlessness and depression because I’ve had to wrestle that in the dark. I still retreat to that cavern sometimes, and sometimes unexpectedly quickly, but I have survived.

Super, super, super lucky me.

36 questions, #s 7-9

Here we go again! If you’re just coming to this and wonder what it’s about, here’s the first post that explains, and this post covers questions 4-6. It’s fun thinking of my own answers to the questions, but what I really loved about the previous posts were your answers! I don’t care if you’re too shy to put them in a comment; some people emailed me or sent Facebook PMs. Whatever! Now, to the next three questions:

7) Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

First, before I answer the question, I acknowledge that my hunches — secret or otherwise — are wrong 99.99% of the time. It’s that .01% that screws me up, because I can’t just completely discount them. So I have a hunch but it’s probably wrong.

Second, before I was ~16, I didn’t think I would make it out of my teens alive. I didn’t have a specific hunch, I just figured one way or another I’d die before I was 18.

Third, when I made it that far, I had this secret hunch that I would die in a car accident. I even had a specific image, that I’d be thrown from the car and lie in a grassy spot and die with my eyes open, looking at the sky.

NOW, my secret hunch is that one far-distant day I just won’t wake up, and I’ll be an ancient, dusty little bag of bones. So old, so dessicated, and so happy with the life I lived. That really is my secret hunch, and I hope it’s the .01%. Fingers crossed, and I’ll do everything I can to help it be so.

8) Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

here we are in Ubud
here we are in Ubud

Marc and I don’t appear to have a lot in common, and the fact is that we really don’t. We’re very different in important and small ways, too. There are things we have in common that you wouldn’t or couldn’t know — so in terms of this question, they wouldn’t appear to anyone. But things we appear to have in common (and do) are a passion for world travel, a love of New York City, and an understanding of suffering (and a corresponding valuing of exploring and making meaning of that).

9) For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

cloudsEVERYTHING! Gosh, everything. Even the suffering, because it shaped me and I got so much from it. Even the childhood, for the same reasons, and because it forced me to think about who and what I wanted to be. Even the losses (though I’m not grateful that we lost our precious Grace, I will never be grateful for that). I’m grateful that my life moved me around so much, even though I hated it while it was happening, because it taught me so much. I’m eternally grateful for having had my children. I’m grateful to have such loving relationships with my grown daughters, and grateful to be a valued and wanted part of their families. I’m grateful they are such good and decent – and extraordinary in their different ways – people. I’m grateful for my grandchildren, and for my daughters getting to be parents as they wanted to be. I’m grateful that my family does seem to have taken a 180-degree turn from the family I came from.

I’m grateful for my specific mind, and my specific temperament — both just the software I came with, so thanks God or genetic raffle, or some combo. I’m grateful for my friends everywhere. I’m grateful that I can make anything I want to make. I’m grateful for books and music and poetry, and the people who create them. I’m grateful for clouds. I’m grateful I have enough of everything, and I would be grateful if I had a bit more money. 🙂 I’m grateful I had the chance to go to college and on to earn my PhD. I’m grateful I can work for myself. I’m grateful that I get to travel so much and see the beautiful world, and all the people. I’m grateful that I’m in very good health, better than ever, actually, at 57. And I’m damn grateful to be 57. I’m grateful my first two hunches were wrong.

And all the little things: The way coffee smells. Chocolate. Rain, after a drought, and dry after rain. Cool weather and hot weather. New thick socks. And all the feelings, and the fact that I seem to experience them all on a regular basis.

And now your turn!

Do you have a secret hunch about you will die?
What are three things you and your partner appear to have in common?
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

I would be annoying you to death right now…

…because every few seconds I sigh deeply and loudly and say, “Oh my God I feel so much better,” or “Hallelujah, I feel so much better!” or other such statements. Every. Few. Seconds. For a couple of hours now.

I slept last night. I slept last night. I SLEPT LAST NIGHT. And it was a good thing, too, because I started really going downhill yesterday afternoon. I could only cry and tremble. Sitting in my chair just felt too much, like I couldn’t do it. So I’d get over to my couch and stretch out and close my eyes—surely now I can nap—but there was just no way. It’s hard to explain what it is like. But it was pretty clear that I was deteriorating. I had already planned to take a Klonopin, but the way things went yesterday there was no doubt.

I got in bed at 8:45, fully Klonopined, and don’t remember anything. I woke up at 2:45 (six straight hours) and was happy enough with that, but I was able to go back to sleep (happy enough with that!) and slept two more hours. Eight hours. Eight hours of blessed sweet sleep.

And so my gratitude is overflowing this morning. Thank you, Genentech, makers of Klonopin. I’m not sure what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t gotten some sleep. Hallucinations are common when you’ve gone as long as I went without even a minute of sleep, and that would have been very bad.

My situation is likely ongoing; the withdrawal process from the medication probably wasn’t completed by my night of sleep, but what do I know! Maybe it was. But even if I find myself entirely sleepless tonight, I’m starting from a new place, a better place.

Thanks to all of you who have been so loving and kindhearted to me during these last few days. I keep learning over and over and over how much the tiniest of connections can help. None of them can end the problem, but they sure help me keep going for a bit and that’s extraordinary. It also reinforces the thing I know: we are all connected, and collectively you are a net under me, just as I connect through others to be a net under you. We have to help each other. As Ram Dass says so gorgeously,

We’re all just walking each other home.

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox


Yesterday a friend of mine wanted to acknowledge his mom’s birthday on Facebook. He posted a lovely photo of her with a caption noting that she was celebrating her [redacted] birthday. Maybe that was her request, not to broadcast her age. Or maybe it was just his assumption that she would prefer that.

This, I do not get. Maybe the day will come when it makes sense to me, when perhaps the gap between my age and how I look/feel is so big that I don’t want my age noted. I don’t think so, but of course it’s possible.

It isn’t that I don’t already feel this disparity with a big measure of surprise. One morning a couple of weeks ago, Marc and I were texting each other and including photos of the kind of weather we were having — his was dismal and drizzly, mine was sunny. I snapped a picture to text him outside, on my patio, right after I finished doing yoga. The sun was kind of bright and I obviously wasn’t taking care with my appearance because it was just a quick “how’s your day honey” kind of thing. After I sent the picture to him, I looked at it:

look at the skin around my eye, and beside my smile
look at the skin around my eye, and beside my smile, in this completely unretouched (obviously) photo

I have no idea when all that happened, when I developed a soft fan of wrinkles around my eyes, when my one smile line turned into so many. It isn’t that I mind them at all, it just surprises me whenever I see it.

Why in the world do people not want to say their age? I just don’t understand it. I wonder if it’s just that people often think it’s what they’re supposed to say — “29 again!” Maybe it’s only meant as a joke. But as obvious a statement as this is, it really is just a number. The only meaning it has is how many times you’ve been around the sun. There are some things your number means — you’re old enough to drink legally, to be sent to war, to receive your retirement benefits. Otherwise, it’s just a number, it really really is. I have a whole lot of numbers clinging to me, you know? 56. 81. 99th. 4.0. 128. 5’9″. 3. 35. Social security numbers. Telephone numbers. Driver’s license numbers and credit card numbers.

Not a fan of the grill. And I think I look better than she does, hmph.
Not a fan of the grill. And I think I look better than she does, hmph.

Those don’t tell you that much more about me than 56 does. Madonna is 56 for heaven’s sake, which means 56-year-old women wear grills and date severely too-young men. That’s what 56-year-old women do.

Or we are in extremely poor health and suffering a lot. Or we’re still trying to get the last kids out of the house. How many 56-year-old women are there? There’s about that many ways to be 56. So what does that number mean, anyway? 56 times around the sun, that’s about it.

I’ll turn 57 in November and (assuming I’m still here!) I will celebrate the hell out of it. In 2018 I’ll turn 60 and celebrate the hell out of that. In 2023 I will throw a big “woo-hoo I’m 65!” party, you know it. If that number means anything else, it’s something to be proud of. I am so proud to be 56. I’m so glad I’m still here, wearing my Converse and doing yoga. I’m so glad every day that I get another day. My number reflects that. 56, hell yeah.

those funny Buddhists

They are funny, you know. The Buddhists I know (not just junior-Buddhist-wannabes like me) are so light, they laugh all the time. All the time. They laugh at what they say, at what you say, at the weather. So funny, so lighthearted. I want some of that.

They’re also funny in their love of numbered lists. I love a good numbered list, don’t get me wrong, but I bow before the organization they’ve arrived at in understanding what it is to be in the world. Here’s a cheat sheet:


Isn’t that great? And it’s the ‘minimal edition’! Essentially it just comes down to a couple of things, so all these various stages and kinds and precepts unfold out of that center. They’re very subtle in their thinking. Marnie studied Tibetan Buddhism in college and some of her books are still on my shelves — marvels of the outline, those philosophies. I love a good outline myself.

And have you ever seen Tibetan monks debating? It’s loud and includes this fantastic hand-slapping movement. I watched one video of senior monks debating junior monks about the hungry ghost, and OH the shouting and slapping.

Isn’t that funny? I’d love to know the origin of that strange hand slapping/sliding technique; I do know that when the senior monk stops speaking, he does that to indicate that the junior monk should respond. Such a ‘violent’ behavior for such peaceful people.

* * *

Last night I did a really beautiful Level 2 Vinyasa Flow class (“Evening Yoga Flow,” 45 minutes) with Jo Tastula, one of my favorite teachers at YogaGlo. At the end she led us through a bit of gratitude meditation, asking us first to think of one thing from our day that filled us with gratitude. Katie had sent me a video of Oliver playing with the quilt I made for him, and laughing and loving it, so that’s what I meditated on — and it’s a whole complex, that little video. Sweet happy Oliver, Katie as loving giggling mama, my lucky role in their lives, and the pleasure of having made something for my grandson that he loves. At the end of the meditation, which we did with our hands resting palm-up on our knees, we took our arms slowly out into a big circle up to touching our palms over our head, while we chanted an OM. Then as the -M rumbled in our chests we pulled our palms slowly down to namaste at our hearts. My gratitude swelled in that moment outward, to my teacher, to YogaGlo, to yoga, to my beautiful little home, to my place in the world, to my connections to others, to my beating heart and still mind, to the world to the universe to Being. I love it when that happens, don’t you?