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

[redacted]

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:

cheatsheet

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?

 

beginning my 57th orbit

weird! I've had this exact hairstyle (and color) for a whole year. But not for long -- whole new deal at 10am today!
weird! I’ve had this exact hairstyle (and color) for a whole year. But not for long; whole new deal at 10am today!

A very happy 56th birthday today for me, because I am here to celebrate it! Hallelujah, I was born and lived and have had the most amazing life so far. Just amazing. I am grateful for my life, every little bit of it, the beautiful and horrible and sublime and ugly and ordinary. I’ve loved so many people and have cherished the love from people in my life. My heart has been broken — so glad my heart is open enough to break (and strong enough to heal). I’ve made a couple of tremendous mistakes that hurt people I loved, and I regret them, but otherwise I have no regrets. I’ve noticed sunrises and sunsets and clouds. I’ve laughed myself into tears as I drove into the desert. I’ve dearly loved books and poetry. I got to wake up. I earned my doctorate. I’ve surely been luckier than most in the friends department, especially since I am so shy. I’ve launched three people into this world who are making it a better place, and now there is another member of my family in this world. I started as Pete and I will end as Pete some day (in the far distant future, I hope!).

I’ve seen so much of this beautiful world and it often made me cry with happiness.

  • With an overfull heart, I stood in front of and inside Notre Dame, in Paris (twice!). I drove through brilliant yellow fields to see the cathedral at Chartres. I took the train through the Chunnel, and another train to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • I drank beer with friends in a pub called ‘Jude the Obscure’ in Oxford, England.
  • I slept on a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, amid the karst pillars. They were eerily beautiful at dusk and dawn. I did Tai Chi at dawn on that little boat, and it was surreal.
  • I sat in a little boat in the middle of the Ganges in Varanasi, in India, and watched the nighttime ceremony to put the Ganges to sleep, I watched cremations, and then I watched the morning puja.
  • Standing atop Macchu Picchu, I saw a sudden and enormous flock of green parrots appear and fly right in front of me, and a heart-shaped hole open up in the clouds behind them. I panted in the thin air of Colca Canyon and watched condors glide on the air currents, and I rode a boat across Lake Titicaca.
  • I fell off a bicycle in Holland and was stared at by a stern Dutch man.
  • I ate an amazing waffle with chocolate and strawberries in the Grande Place in Brussels with Marnie in the midst of an otherwise very tense day.
  • I’ve snorkeled off the Yucatan so many times, and off Honduras a couple of times.
  • I saw gorgeous Ireland with Katie, my pretty green-eyed Irish girl. We seriously underestimated how long it would take us to drive from Derry to Belfast — on July 12.
  • In Dubrovnik, I learned how to see where the war destroyed the buildings by understanding the various colors of the tile roofs. I was happily delighted by Zagreb.
  • I spent three days in a boat gliding down the Mekong River in Vietnam and drifted among the floating market boats, guided by a man who fought as a soldier for the south — “on your side,” he told us. A tiny Hmong woman held my hand and led me over rocks in Sapa, in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border.
  • So many wonderful Lao people greeted me with sabaidee, and I learned that I love BeerLao. I fed monks in Luang Prabang, and ate enormous feasts in an alley lined with food vendors, $2 for a huge plate and a giant BeerLao. (And I will be going back in a couple of weeks!)
  • One stunningly beautiful day, under bright blue cloudless skies, I sat in a small boat going down some little river in northern Laos, among the mountains, with no idea exactly where I was. I could barely contain my laughter and tears and wonder. Me. There.
  • One Thanksgiving I stood in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to come up.
  • I saw proboscis monkeys on Borneo, and a naughty macaque stole Marc’s drink.
  • In Malaysia, I ate very well in Kuching, and had the best tandoori chicken of my life in a parking lot in Melaka. All my other memories melted in the heat.
  • Standing in the great hall of the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, I cried because I never thought I’d see it. I stared up at the brilliant mosaics I’d studied in an Art History class in Alabama.
  • In Myanmar, I rode in a very quiet boat on very still water in Inle Lake among the stilted houses of Burmese people.
  • In Oaxaca I got food poisoning.
  • I bathed a pregnant elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, and chased a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean.
  • I drank some java on Java, and fought off monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, in Bali.
  • I watched the most beautiful sunsets on Santorini, learned I love Athens, and laughed with joy as I drove all over gorgeous, mountainous Crete.
Gosh how I love him.
Gosh how I love him.

I had the unbelievable privilege of bringing three beautiful people into this world, through me. I got to love and carry them before I met them, care for them, guide them as best I could, cry and fight and laugh with them, attend the weddings of my daughters, love their husbands, and now celebrate the next generation in our sweet boy Oliver. From them I learned what love really does mean.

This is my first birthday where I can say this and mean it unequivocally, from the bottom of my heart: I have never been happier. I like who I am (never been able to say that before). I look better than I ever have and am in the best shape I’ve ever been in. My 55th year of living seems to be the year I got it together in a deep way, and that’s OK with me. My beautiful life has been a creative act and I rarely took it for granted. I have felt like the luckiest person in the world. If you see me today, I will be tickled if you sing Happy Birthday. 🙂 And now I am 56, lucky lucky me. Not everyone gets to be 56. (And you should know that I cried while typing every single word, but you probably do already know that if you know me. Thank you for sharing my life with me.)

stages and changes

These days, this is the rhythm of an ordinary day:

  • Wake up when I wake up, which is usually between 7am and 8am.
  • Do my morning ritual before I get started with anything else.
  • Make my lovely pot of French press coffee. Read while enjoying my coffee.
  • Rinse out the pot, straighten the kitchen, make my bed, get dressed and ready for my day.
  • Work until ~4pm, then stop and do yoga for 45 minutes.
  • Work until ~6pm, stop and make dinner, eat it with relish.
  • Work another couple of hours, then take a 2-mile walk if the weather accommodates.
  • Quick shower, do my nightly routine, work another hour if I need to, or read.
  • In bed around 10:30-ish to read (and usually asleep within 5 minutes).

This is my routine seven days a week, and it has interruptions of course. Evenings with friends, time with Katie and Oliver, my precious social time with loved ones; out for a movie or lecture. That’s why I work seven days a week, because I feel free to interrupt my day with time with others. It’s a lovely rhythm and feels like an integrated, lovely life.

toes in the Adriatic, off Croatia
toes in the Adriatic, off Croatia

This morning while I was getting dressed I noticed my manicured toenails, my time to take care of my appearance; I thought about the fact that I’d do yoga later in the day, and take a walk in the evening; I thought about what I wanted to make for dinner, and my only concern was what *I* wanted to eat, what sounded good to me.

here they are late-teens, wish i could quickly find one of us all during the more rushing-around years
here they are late-teens, wish i could quickly find one of us all during the more rushing-around years

Then I thought about all the very many years of my life when those things were simply not possible, given everything else I had to do. I know people will say, “If it matters to you, you’ll find time to get exercise into your day.” And to those people I said, “Oh yeah? You show me when.” Once in a while I’d decide to get up at 4 and do some kind of exercise, the only time I could make for it, and I just couldn’t do it. My toes were unmanicured, my appearance was focused on just putting on whatever I could find that worked with the weather, exercise was a distant idea, dinner was not the same kind of pleasure it is now. Getting up when I wanted to? HAHAHAHA, that has never happened until now! Leisurely morning routine, what would that mean? Morning was slapping the alarm and rolling out despite feeling so exhausted I wanted to cry, getting the kids up and out the door, getting myself out the door, working myself into more exhaustion, coming home to make dinner for us all, spending whatever time I could with my kids, overseeing homework in the years I had to do that, tending to life/laundry/bills/housework/worries, and falling into bed way too late. I was always tired, I always felt like too little butter scraped over too much bread, but our bodies and souls were kept together and that was the goal.

a silly picture of a fun happy hour -- I was excited about the egg Debbie had ordered...
a silly picture of a fun happy hour — I was excited about the egg Debbie had ordered…

I have a lot of friends at my stage of life, and a lot who are still in the very busy child-rearing stage. When I was in that busy stage, it wasn’t that I thought it would always be like that, but I was just too busy to imagine anything different. There’s such a great pleasure to be had at this stage of life. SUCH great pleasure, deep and vivid. My children are out in the world living their own busy lives, that work is done and I’m proud of them, and so glad that I get to be with them and part of their lives. I’m comfortable in my own skin, I’m more relaxed and humorous about myself, I know and appreciate the tremendous value of each and every day, because I also have time to notice and revel. I have time and resources to travel as I wish. Life is so much fun, such a gift, and so precious. It was then, in the busy years, of course — but the real gift is having the opportunity to ride through the stages, whatever they are. What a gift.

What a gift. However busy life is, do not fail to notice that. Even when it’s about as hard as it can possibly be, it’s a gift to be here. Even when Gracie died — the most unimaginable pain  — even then, it was a gift to be there with my children, for us all to be together helping each other and sharing the agony. It was a gift to have such a family, to be connected to them so intensely. It was a gift that we all survived it. It was a gift that Katie did not die too. It was a gift that Katie and Trey had each other and were so good for each other, as they continue to be. It was a gift that our friends surrounded us and cared for us in so many ways. It was a gift that they stayed with us, still caring for us as the months rolled by.

It is an amazing gift to be 55, coming up on 56, and to be in such good health, no pains or worries; to have my kids such a big part of my life, and for them to want me in theirs; to have so many friends in Austin and New York, and everywhere else I’ve lived or made friends; to have my mind that allows me to work and to think and imagine, even if it’s kind of forgetful these days; to have the luxury of growing and expanding myself because I’m not having to fight to stay alive due to war or poverty. Man. How LUCKY am I? And how lucky are you, too.

Happy Saturday! It’s my friend Dee’s birthday and some of our group are having dinner with her tonight to celebrate her life. I hope you have something happy in your life today, and I hope you pause a minute to reflect on the gift of your life.

<3

I don’t mean to keep harping on this, but it’s important context so I’ll just mention it and get to the real point. The yoga mat is the site of so many deep experiences for me, and I had one last night that left me kind of crying my heart out during savasana. There’s one small series of three poses — mountain pose with arms extended upwards, hands over your heart, sweep the energy up and hold. As always, when I put my hands over my heart I felt it pounding away. (I am not in shape, but I am getting there faster than I thought I would.)

heartBut last night when I felt it pounding away I was overwhelmed with such gratitude for the beautiful complex muscle, just doing its thing day in and day out, day in and day out, day in and day out, for 20,376 days as of yesterday. The only time I really think about it is when it’s pounding, and even then it just makes me think about being out of shape, and how I’d better get with the program….if I had a program. Even when it’s pounding I don’t think about my heart. I just take it for granted. Which is kind of funny, because I have such a peculiar relationship with my heart.

When I was a child, living in hell, I used to lie very still and summon all my will in an effort to will my heart to stop beating. I have no idea how many times I did that, countless times. Sometimes I’d hold my breath while exerting my will, sometimes I’d kind of bear down, and sometimes I’d just lie very still. STOP BEATING. Words, sometimes, just silent and intense exertion of will most often. I was always crushed when it just kept beating. I would keep waiting, keep trying, but it just kept beating and eventually I’d have to give up.

As I got older, all my emotion focused itself squarely on my heart, my chest. I had crushing chest pain, and when something especially terrible happened, the pain was so bad I thought it was killing me. I’ve been in the emergency room several times, hospitalized once, and was taken away in an ambulance when I was in graduate school because of my heart. It always felt so appropriate to me, because I think my heart has been shattered so many times it’s mostly emotional scar tissue holding it together. (Thank you, emotional scar tissue.)

And yet here I am, 56 in November, and my heart just keeps on beating so beautifully, so perfectly, as it always has, despite myself. My aorta is a bit insufficient — an insulting word! — and sometimes my heart gallops so fast I almost can’t breathe, but there it goes otherwise, just pumping and pumping. While I’m asleep, pumping and pumping. Sending out oxygenated blood to my body. Performing its innate and exquisite rhythmic dance, chambers and valves in sync. I am so grateful for my sweet little heart, and want to take care of it and be more gentle with it.

You can pause for a minute and get your head into just the right place and think about the machine of your body. You’re just sitting there, and blood is flying through veins and arteries, out into capillaries, and going back in the giant loop. Electrical impulses are flying up and down your axons doing all kinds of things, including stimulating your muscles to do what you want them to do. Chemicals in your brain are locking into receptors, releasing from receptors. Your stomach is digesting food. Your intestines are squeezing that digested food, extracting nutrients. There are your lungs doing their complicated thing with air and alveoli to get oxygen into the system — and on top of that, the heart and lungs are doing a very complicated dance with each other, all while maintaining their own processes. Your retinas are transforming what you see, these little black letters right now, sending electrical signals to the hypercolumns of cells in your visual cortex, which take the patterns of edges and turn it into something that you have a word for and you have words without even thinking about it. (Think about it.) Your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is managing stress for you. The vast spreadoutness of your immune system is doing a VERY complicated thing while you just sit there. And don’t even get started on your mind! Where do those thoughts come from, the ones that just arise unbidden? Which is most of them, really, unless you’re trying to puzzle your way through something or pick specific words to communicate something important.

You are exquisitely amazing. I am exquisitely amazing. Don’t you forget it. And thank you, my sweet little heart, for all you do for me.

the luckiest person in the world

That would be me. For the last several days I have done 30 minutes of yoga every day, and when I was doing it last night, after spending a few hours with darling little Oliver, I had this incredible moment of well-being and gratitude. And the funny thing was that it didn’t have anything to do with the specifics of my life — my children, Oliver, my travels, having work — it had to do with my body.

ME! Gratitude for my body. I’ve spent all these years hating it, hiding it, liking it if-only, thinking it would be OK when, trying not to look at it, feeling shame about it. For the last several years I’ve been working on that and while I’ve made strides (I no longer say bad things about it), I have so far to go. Oh sure, if pushed I’ll say something with a roll of my eyes and a side-twisted mouth: Yeah, I guess it takes me wherever I want to go. Sure.

yogaBut in that yoga series, gratitude for this body kind of washed over me. THIS body, my body. Despite my neglect of it, despite my mistreatment of it, despite my recriminations against it, I am 55 years old and it’s in shockingly good shape. It allows me to move through the yoga series with some semblance of grace, and I never think twice about it because it doesn’t hurt me in any way. It performed the incredible magic of creating, holding, and birthing three human beings. It was cut open, hipbone to hipbone. Bones broke pretty badly in my right wrist. And here I am, ready and able to do whatever comes to mind. Thank you, wonderful wonderful body.

And the day before, I was going through the series as the sun was coming down in the sky and it started slanting in through my French doors right over me. And at the moment it did that, I was going through this very smooth and long series of child’s pose-upward facing dog, child’s pose-upward facing dog, for three minutes. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, up and down, up and down. And the truly golden sun was pouring over my back and I felt just glorious. Another moment of deep well-being.

I am so grateful for my body and for the genes I got from my grandmother, who died in her 90s with all her teeth, all her organs, no need for glasses, never an operation, and no health problems beyond low blood pressure. She just didn’t wake up one day. She was sharp as a tack (and mean as a snake) to her last day. No Alzheimer’s in my family, no cancer, no diabetes, no heart trouble. Emotional troubles yes, alcoholism yes, but strong strong bodies. And all these years I’ve just taken mine for granted.

wingToday is fly day — it’s back to New York for me, for 12 days. It’ll be harder to do my daily stuff there, yoga and working in silence and eating my good and healthy food. The silence will be the hardest to find, but I have some ideas about that. When he is seeing patients I can do 30 minutes of yoga. And of course I will walk and walk and walk. Both Sundays I’ll probably walk down to Chelsea, 88 blocks. It matters to me that I keep taking such good care of myself, so I’ll just adapt and do it a little differently. It’s like mindfulness, in a way, as David Nichtern said:

Mindfulness is a dynamic process. It’s not like asking everybody to hold still so we can take a photo of them. Everything is always moving and shifting. You can’t ask a butterfly to stop moving around so you can pay attention to it. Mindfulness means staying awake and fluid as the situation evolves.

See y’all around….take good care of yourselves. You’re pretty amazing.

the day before

Thanks heavens for everything. That could be the sole content of my daily gratitude email response. Thank heavens for everything. Today what I mean by that, in addition to everything is:

  • Thank heavens for Sherlock, who saw a mention of the Yale Writers’ Conference and told Peggy about it.
  • Thank heavens Peggy suggested that we both apply.
  • Thank heavens for my plan, formulated at the beginning of this year, to take myself seriously as a writer.
  • Thank heavens for friends—including Katie, Traci, Peggy, Dee, Nancy, Bob—who read the options I was considering submitting as my application and gave me not only their best opinions, but also their deeply heartfelt encouragement and beautiful kind words that I pull out and polish again and again when I get scared.
  • Thank heavens for Nancy, who was working outside when I came home having just learned of my acceptance. I pulled sideways into the driveway and jumped out (thank heavens I put the car in gear!) and ran straight to her. Her sharing that moment with me is something I will remember all my days. And then Bob joined us, and something about the way he was totally unsurprised makes me laugh out loud.
  • Thank heavens for my loved ones who share my happiness and tell me again and again of their happiness for me.
  • Thank heavens for Peggy and Sherlock for their geez-its-obvious assumption that of course I would stay with them during the conference.
  • Thank heavens Peggy and I were both accepted, although we’d have been so happy for each other in any other circumstance (and consoled each other if we weren’t accepted).
  • Thank heavens Peggy attended the first session already so she knows what to expect, how it goes, and is helping me get over my nerves through her unusual overuse of exclamation points and all-cap words in her wonderful emails sent during the first session.

yaleschedAnd so today I head up their way. Session II starts Wednesday and runs through Sunday, and I imagine I will not have much time or spare mental/emotional energy to post here, although you never know! I might just post something full of WORDS and lots of exclamation points!!!!

Thank you for the way you have encouraged me too, in all the ways you do. Your off-line emails to me in response to posts, your out-of-the-blue “hey, I was just thinking of you” notes, your constant encouragement simply by reading this blog, not to mention your comments. Thank you, thank heavens for you.

If you sense the air quivering, if you feel the universe doing its thing, if something suddenly seems all vibratey and frizzy, that’s just me.  xo

being a knot

What a couple of days it’s been for people I love. A simple procedure for one friend unexpectedly revealed tentacles and now the world is very different for him and his wife, and for all of us who love them. An easy Sunday morning for another friend suddenly went blank and now there are tests and uncertainty. A third friend was preparing an Easter dinner to share with friends and family and the knife slipped pretty badly. The world turns on a dime.

Of course this is the downside of loving people. When you overlap with people, when your hearts mingle, your life can be cracked and even shattered when something happens to them. It’s no longer just yourself, just your family. It’s a wider world, more opportunities to have the rug pulled out. That’s the inherent risk in love and we all know it and we go along happily, we all do, expecting this little thing to go that way and be done, Sunday morning to lead seamlessly into Sunday afternoon, preparation to end with a meal shared by loved ones around the table. We all expect to see that friend at the party next week, to hear about the grand adventures of that couple we love, to relish hearing his stories and laugh, her adorable accent, again and again. Of course we will. But there is no of course.

And so again it’s time to relearn the old lesson. Cherish the invisible things, the things you don’t think twice about. Hey, my legs work! Both of them! Wow, I can see anything I want, how amazing — and hear whatever I want, too! What stunning gifts. I can go to the bathroom all by myself, what a luxury. I’m reasonably sure that the next couple months of my life are not going to be spent in the misery of a caustic treatment. Remember how great it is that your hands work. Be thankful every single time you remember something, even if you’re kind of forgetful in an ordinary way. Cherish the very real treasure of your memories — your own, and the ones you share with others. CHERISH THEM! They are treasures, never to be taken for granted. And how amazing it is that I’m bored lying here so I can just get up and go do anything I want. I can walk into the other room. I can get in my car and go wherever I want. I can cook myself a meal, I can read a book or watch a movie.

I’ve mentioned my daily gratitude email thing before. Like everyone, I have some really low days, days when everything seems all wrong, either kind of shitty or maybe SUPER shitty. When I lose track of things, when my perspective gets all wonky. On those days my little email arrives and I sit, staring at the screen, unable to think of a damn thing to be grateful for. (Most days my struggle is to just pick a few out of the ocean of things I am grateful for.) Now it’s time to re-remember this lesson, and on those low days I can easily say that I am grateful that my legs work, and not feel like I’ve just written something dumb so I don’t miss a day. I can write with deep gratitude that I am so very grateful I have eyes. All these things that are invisible to us until we lose them and we suddenly realize how precious they are.

And that’s just looking at the universe of my own working body. I have a grocery store nearby with so much food, so many kinds of food, I forget to be dazzled by it. (And I have enough money to buy food, also dazzling.) I have a television and the Internet and so I know what’s happening in places I will never see — and I know what those places look like. I’m so very extraordinarily lucky to have seen much of the world, so all those places belong to me now. Myanmar is mine, what a mind-blowing wonder is that. I know about the water cycle and can look at the clouds and see how part of the world is working. I know about chlorophyll and so I can look at trees and understand how that part of the world works. How incredible is that? I live in a place where the ground blooms with gorgeous wildflowers, as if by magic, to make us all happy for a while — fields of blue, hillsides that are coral and orange, sides of the highway shining yellow and pink. What a world, and I rarely give it a second thought.

Of course I’ll forget all this again, this insight will be like the wildflowers, blooming now while it’s raining but the sun will come out and life will keep going and this knowledge will go into hiding again, ready to bloom when people I love are at risk.

netI’ve written before about my idea of the net. As I said then, look at that image, see all the blank spaces? The net is mostly open air, mostly empty space. What holds it together, what holds you up and catches you when you fall, are the tiny, tiny, tiny little knobs, the tiniest little things, but there are lots of them and they connect. A net, a network, enough to save you if necessary. I am just one of the little knots in the net underneath my friends, nothing more, but how grateful I am to get to be one of those knots. How fine a thing it is to have the chance to help someone when you can. I think it’s probably the finest thing we do as people, submit our own selves and hearts to care for others. To be willing to suffer alongside them, to be willing and glad to not know what’s next with them, so they don’t have to not-know all alone.

For the first six months of 2012, my husband was undergoing such harrowing treatment, pure hell. There was some question of whether he would survive the treatment itself. Not everybody does. I hope never to go through that again, but I am so deeply glad that I had the privilege to do that with and for him. I say this without any kind of patting myself on the back, because I think it’s just a glory of being human, but helping him through that is without a doubt one of the finest things I have ever done in my life. In that case I was almost all the knots in the net, and the parts connecting the knots too. I hope with all my heart that my friends are going to prevail and come out on the other side with stories to tell, with brand new ways to empathize with people. I feel such enormous gratitude that I get to be a knot.

how it ends

not sure what Marc's grandpa name will be. He is a Russian Jew, but Russians call their grandfathers Dedushka, which seems a stretch here.
not sure what Marc’s grandpa name will be. Maybe Saba, which is a Jewish ‘cool grandfather’ name.

When Marc was here a couple of weekends ago, we were talking about him as Oliver’s grandfather. He talked about Katie’s dad as the grandfather, and said he can’t compete with him. I laughed, of course, and said there is no competition, that Oliver is just blessed with six grandparents, a modern family. So Marc said, “Well, maybe I can be the one who talks to him about death and impermanence.” That is SO MARC. It made me laugh, and I said yes, you can be the one who does that. He said someone needs to.

Marc is Jewish, but he’s Buddhist (aka JewBu). He meditates a lot on impermanence, after a lifetime of thinking about and fearing death. He remembers being a very little boy sitting in his closet being terrified about death, and believing, therefore, that nothing has any meaning. Like me, he read a little too much Camus as a kid.

I think about death too, not at all in the same way he does. Unlike Marc (though he may have changed his views by now), I think it’s death that gives our life a way to have meaning. Two days ago I had two pretty intense experiences thinking about death, which is unusual for me:

  1. You know how I like to think about the way everything is seamlessly connected to everything, that there are events on the road ahead of me, already on their way to me, and I am unaware of them. Some are inevitable and some may easily change course. I am on someone’s road heading toward them in the same way. The day before yesterday I was driving on the highway and suddenly wondered if I would be doing anything differently if I knew I was going to die later in the day. It felt absolutely true in that moment, not just an idle thought. Well hell yeah, of course! I’d be spending those hours with my family, telling them how much I have loved them and how much they have meant to me. But you know, I also have to make a living. I’d rather not have spent most of my last hours reading a crappy manuscript, but there are things we just have to do. I was thinking about the trite thing people say, the very thing I thought, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow….” but it isn’t that simple. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep in mind that tomorrow might be our last day so we shouldn’t waste today.
  2. That night I woke up in the middle of the night, like I always do, and started reading. Like I always do. I wasn’t feeling upset about anything, worried, unhappy, and I didn’t feel bad physically like I sometimes do in the middle of the night. My tummy often hurts when I wake up. But that night I was just reading the book for my book club, and all of a sudden I became gripped with a fear of dying. Just caught in the clutches of existential terror. All I could think was that I love my life so very much, I have so much to love, so much joy, so much to do, each day I love it so much and I don’t want it to end. I think that’s happened to me only two other times in my life.
Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

It probably won’t happen, but I might die today. Odds are seriously against it, and thank heavens for that. I’m just going to be at home all day and night, not going anywhere, and I’m in good health as far as I know. But just in case, know that I loved my whole life. Every little bit of it, the beautiful and horrible and sublime and ugly. I’ve loved so many people and have cherished the love from people in my life. I’ve noticed sunrises and sunsets. I’ve laughed myself into tears as I drove into the desert. I’ve dearly loved books and poetry. I got to wake up. I’ve launched three people into this world who are making it a better place, and now there is another member of my family in this world. I started as Pete and I will end as Pete.

I’ve seen so much of this beautiful world and it often made me cry with happiness.

  • With an overfull heart, I stood in front of Notre Dame, in Paris. I drove through yellow fields to see the cathedral at Chartres. I took the train through the Chunnel, and another train to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • I drank beer in a pub called ‘Jude the Obscure’ in Oxford, England.
  • I slept on a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, amid the karst pillars. They were eerily beautiful at dusk and dawn.
  • I sat in a little boat in the middle of the Ganges in Varanasi and watched the nighttime ceremony to put the Ganges to sleep, I watched cremations, and then I watched the morning puja.
  • Standing atop Macchu Picchu, I saw a sudden and enormous flock of green parrots appear and fly right in front of me, and a heart-shaped hole open up in the clouds behind them. I panted in the thin air of Colca Canyon and watched condors glide on the air currents, and I rode a boat across Lake Titicaca.
  • I fell off a bicycle in Amsterdam and was stared at by a stern Dutch man.
  • I ate an amazing waffle with chocolate and strawberries in the Grande Place in Brussels.
  • I’ve snorkeled off the Yucatan so many times, and off Honduras a couple of times.
  • I saw Ireland with Katie, my pretty green-eyed Irish girl. We seriously underestimated how long it would take us to drive from Derry to Belfast — on July 12.
  • In Dubrovnik, I learned how to see where the war destroyed the buildings by understanding the various colors of the tile roofs. I was surprised by Zagreb.
  • I rode a boat down the Mekong River in Vietnam and drifted among the floating market boats, guided by a man who fought as a soldier for the south — “on your side,” he told us. A very small Hmong woman held my hand and led me over rocks in Sapa, in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border.
  • So many wonderful Lao people greeted me with Sabaidee, and I learned that I love BeerLao. I fed monks in Luang Prabang, and ate enormous feasts in an alley lined with food vendors, $2 for a huge plate and a giant BeerLao.
  • One Thanksgiving I stood in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to come up.
  • I saw proboscis monkeys on Borneo, and a naughty macaque stole Marc’s drink.
  • Standing in the great hall of the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, I cried because I never thought I’d see it. I stared up at the brilliant mosaics I’d studied in an Art History class in Alabama.
  • I rode in a very quiet boat on very still water in Inle Lake among the stilted houses of Burmese people.
  • In Oaxaca I got food poisoning.
  • I bathed a pregnant elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, and chased a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean.
  • I drank some java on Java, and fought off monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, in Bali.

My beautiful life has been a creative act and I rarely took it for granted. I have felt like the luckiest person in the world. I hope the very same thing is true for you, in whatever form your life has taken.

not THAT kind of sad….

i feel you, little snowman!
i feel you, little snowman!

….but the one in all caps. SAD. Seasonal. Affective. Disorder. You know what? I think one thing that’s going on with me is just this long-acting gloomy gray-skied winter! I’m in Texas and this is winter, I’m getting ripped off! Our pay-off for the miserable hot summers is that we get these gloat-worthy lovely mild winters, so where’s the complaint desk, I’m getting in line. (Yeah, behind all of you having much worse winters, Chicago, New York, the east coast, the midwest, boo hoo you poor Texans having gray skies and some freezing temperatures bite me, I imagine you saying.)

That hit me yesterday, yet another miserable non-Texan winter day. I’m missing the sun, but I’m also missing the son, my boy, who is once again in retreat, not responding, not a word in five months (even through the holidays, nada), no answer to emails or calls or texts, just the big zero. Silence. He does this, and it shreds my heart. So I’m missing the sun/son and I think that’s a big part of this heaviness I can’t seem to shake.

Because really, if you were to haul out a giant set of scales and put my troubles on one side and all my riches on the other, that sucker would be weighted by the good so heavily it’d send the couple of troubles flying, like a trebuchet. Oh my god. And even though I’ve been walking around in this sad misty funk, even through all this, I’ve been shaking my head at how much wonder there is in my life. Oliver will be here next month, we’ll get to hold him and pinch him (well, out of love of course) and kiss his chubby little cheeks and see who he is. Katie will be a mommy, Trey will be a daddy. Marnie is about to start a new chapter in her life, Tom is burning it up at his job.

I mention lightly but more than once that I’m blue, and BOY do people put their arms out to me. My goodness. Dixie. Karyn. Peggy. Dee. Nancy. Cyndi. Traci. Faith. Jane. Anne. Becci. Little touches maybe, big full-body hugs maybe, daily loving emails maybe. Eggs, even. (Delivered, even!) Lunches. Dinner with Lorrie. “How are you”s. “Thinking about you”s. “Doing OK?”s. “Hey, neighbor”s. “Can you swing by?”s. Kisses, even. Smiles.

And I ask a personal favor of several people — something that’s extremely difficult for me to do, just a little bit harder than allowing you to help me if it will put you out — and of course no surprise, all the people I asked immediately and enthusiastically said they would help me. And so I get to learn, I get to etch away a bit of that wall, let some air and light in, start the process of it crumbling. And in doing the personal favor for me, those who did it gave me such gifts. Nancy says can you come over, and then she and her husband proceed to tell me things I will cherish forever, and I walk back to my place on a thick cushion of air, and believe in myself a little bit more than I dreamed I would. And Traci says something I will cherish forever, and save in a little file to read when my faith lags. And with their encouragement, and Peggy’s hand, I try something and I will be OK even if it doesn’t work this time. How could I not be? Look at what I have.

And you know what else? I am grateful every miserable day of this gray, cold, miserable winter, that it was not like this last winter when my life was in shambles and I was so utterly devastated. If I’d felt like that and it was this weather? Yikes. I shudder to think. Instead, I remember last February working on my patio in a sleeveless t-shirt and shorts, potting plants in the blue-skied sunny days. I’m actually strong enough this year to just mope around a bit and feel funky and unclean (yeah, I’m not showering all that much) but not be in more trouble than that.

While I’ve been moping around in the gloom, all these people have been softly holding me up and other good things have been happening. I’m now officially the poetry and prose editor for a new journal called Red Truck Review: A Journal of American Southern Literature and Culture. When the site is up, I’ll share the link. More information on that as it gets up and running. The first issue will launch mid-March. Through this opportunity, as the net works, other opportunities may come my way. I know people now who know people and this is how the world works. I’m writing, a lot, and seem to have flipped some switch about it, more ideas on that to come in another post.

And so I have very little work, several tiny jobs that all together don’t cover my rent. And so the crazy thing is still hanging over me and will be for more weeks, and crazy for my husband too. Crazy is crazy-making, not to be too redundant there. But it is! Those are big frightening things, I am definitely not minimizing them. By no means. They’re just not the whole thing. By any means.

Feeling mighty grateful and wiping the mist off my glasses. xoxo

the best: gratitude-noting system

Benefits_of_GratitudeI know that we’re all bored of hearing about how great and important it is to be grateful. “Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.” *Yawn.*

But of course it is a very cool thing to regularly note the things you have to be grateful for. The reasons your life is wonderful, even if it’s not feeling very wonderful.

I’ve tried every system known to woman. I’ve bought dozens of beautiful little notebooks and a similar dozens of nice pens — each set aside just for this thing. That didn’t stick. I’ve bought regular old cheap spiral notebooks like you use in school, and plain old Bic pens. Didn’t stick. I’ve created Excel worksheets (my fave!), I’ve made countless Word documents saved on my computer, I’ve tried different things on my blog, none of it ever stuck. I tend to have a grateful attitude anyway, but I wanted to try to systematically pay attention to it to see what would happen for me.

And then I found Grateful 160. And I have not missed a single day since October 22, 2012. Not one day. And in that period I’ve taken several big trips to the other side of the world — but I did it even then. No matter what, no matter what. The day my life fell apart and I flew to Austin to start over from scorched earth? Yep, that day too. The many days I’ve been lost to depression here and there since October 22, 2012? Yep, those days too. There have been 3 or 4 days since I started where I felt so bleak I just couldn’t think of anything, and preferring honesty, on those days I wrote “Today I cannot think of anything.”

When you sign up on the website (http://grateful160.com/) you set up your preferences. You can get a contact 1, 2, 3, or 4 times a day. Your contact can be an email or a text. And you decide what time of day. Once a day is enough for me, and mine comes in an email in the late afternoon. It looks like this:

the specific greeting changes (Salutations! Good evening! etc) but this is what I get every afternoon
the specific greeting changes (Salutations! Good evening! etc) but this is what I get every afternoon

So all I have to do is click ‘reply’ and type something, then click send. DONE. Usually my responses are about people, but not always. Sometimes it’s the same person for several days in a row. Your responses are saved for you on the website, and on Friday the system emails you with your responses for the week. I LOVE THAT PART. Each Friday I get to look back at what was good in my week, and remember the things that made me write that answer each day.

this is how they're saved on the website
this is how they’re saved on the website

I’ve shocked myself by being faithful to this system, and for so long! It’s one of the few things like this that I’ve ever stuck with, and I believe I’ve stuck with it because it’s made simple for me. I don’t have to go track down anything, I don’t have to go find a pen, I don’t have to remember any passwords or where I put the damn thing. I just click reply, type a few words, and click send. SIMPLE. If I’m away from home, I always have my phone with me and can answer that way. (No need to carry around a paper notebook so I’m sure I don’t forget!) Some days the hard part is just picking a thing or two out of everything there is, but some days the hard part is the struggle to see what’s there. And those days it’s most important to do it.

This “the best” post is a two-fer — a question and its answer, kind of. The best thing you can do on a daily basis is think about what you have to be grateful for, to develop that habit. And the best way you can not just start the habit but easily keep it up is to use this brilliant little system.

Happy Sunday — today I’m grateful for the sun. And you. xo

ugh awry

candyI know this happens for everyone — right? Or at least it seems this way. One bad thing happens. Sometimes that’s it! Sometimes you barely even notice, it’s just a thing.

But sometimes it’s a cascade; one bad thing happens then another thing happens and then another, and then it seems like it’s all gone to hell. My image of this has always been the paper cone that someone swirls in the cotton candy machine; that cone is like a magnet, drawing all the little threads of spun sugar to it, and they collect in a mass around the cone.

That’s how it’s feeling for me right now. There’s all kinds of stuff in my life, so idiotic and crazy it’s not even worth going into all of it, from a sick gut to slow work to emotional blues. And now our moronic “government” filled with batshit insane Republicans who don’t give a crap about anything but their financial backers (I know they’re not the only ones with financial backers, but they are truly the batshit insane political party, my god). How humiliating to be an American to the rest of the world. The government shutdown isn’t immediately and obviously affecting me personally, it’s just one more of the several crap things collecting around that cone.

And so when it feels like this, it’s more important than ever to take a deep breath, to shake your head and squint — hard, if you have to — to see through all this, to see what else there is. The crap won’t last forever, nothing does, and it’s a real mistake to think trouble is all there is. No matter what is happening, no matter how truly awful your stuff may be, there is other stuff. There is always other stuff. When it feels like this, it’s even more important to breathe and sit quietly and think, find the things you have to be grateful for, and then dwell in them long enough to feel them. I’ve found that just calling them to mind is good but not enough to shift things. Instead, I have to really hold them, sit with them, imagine them as deeply as I can, and then it shifts things.

Katie and Trey. Marnie and Tom. Will. Dixie and Karl. Sherlock, Peggy, Traci, all my New York friends so many. Cyndi, Lynn, all my Austin friends semi-old and brand new gosh it’d be such a long string to name everyone, so very many of you. Far-flung friends like Kristie in Canada, Megan in NZ, Laura in Australia, Kty in Paris, Lara in England, sending little notes and touches to me, deeply personal and knowing. I close my eyes and focus on your faces and feel my shoulders relax just a little. I close my eyes and imagine you smiling at me, as I have seen you do so very many times, and I feel a little safer. I close my eyes and think of the times we’ve just been together and the times to come, and I feel happier. My sweet little home, surrounding me with comfort and pleasure and solitude, waiting for me always. My so-cozy bed, my daily rest and comfort. My sweet patio, welcoming me a little easier now that the temperatures are less sweltering. My upcoming trip to Sri Lanka, that deep pleasure of seeing the world. The regular laughing pleasure of the little birds outside my window. Poetry group at my place tonight. Lunch with Dee tomorrow, an evening with Karyn and Mike the night after that, breakfast with Noshaba over the weekend, so much connection. Dinner with Craig in New York coming up soon. The sunrise out my window. Emerald green smoothies every morning. Avocados, tomatoes. Mushrooms. Clean water, cold. Hot tea, rich coffee. Hope. Books.

OK. I can keep going through the current run of gross stuff happening. Deep breaths. Gratitude. Self-compassion. Going slowly and mindfully. And maybe a massage, now that I think about it. Love to all of you. xo

busy!

busyA short while ago, I wrote about surplus, how I suddenly have one too many things and have no place for my bedroom chair, how I have such wealth and splendor in my new life, lucky me.

My social life is in a state of surplus too, a fact that leaves me maybe even a little more gobsmacked. Having no space for the chair just means I bought one too many things, which is surprising since I started with nothing, but it’s also just about having enough money (and yay for that!). Having the wealth and splendor of love and gratitude is the best thing ever, because as much as anything it’s a state, an internal state that can exist at any time. Even in the very worst of times, like my 17 days last fall—losing precious Gracie, watching my beloved daughter suffer the worst thing anyone can suffer, my marriage breaking, leaving NYC which I love, starting over from absolute scratch—there was love in there, and so much to be grateful for. In a way, the very worst of times gives you the biggest things to be grateful for, even though the feelings are pain and misery.

I have so many friends all over the place, many of whom make my life entirely worth living, and yet I obviously had to meet people here too. Since I was so utterly broken when I arrived back in Austin, and just before Thanksgiving and all the holidays to boot, it was impossible to be the kind of self you need to be to make new friends. Lively [enough], interesting, oh I don’t know, not crying all the time. It’s difficult to meet people, to make new friends as an adult anyway, but the workplace at least exposes you to a lot of possibilities . . . unless you work at home, for yourself, as I do. I threw myself into Meetups in an effort to get to know a bunch of people, and it was extremely hard, not just because I’m a shy introvert but also because I cried easily, and it was hard to find people who are like me in ways that matter for long friendship. I really just like to read, I’m politically quite liberal, I love to travel to the other side of the world, and like everyone else, there are ways I have quite an ordinary mind and other ways my mind is unusual. Connecting enough of the dots to make a fit seemed very hard, given everything.

And yet here I am, with a social surplus and so grateful for it. I am now booking time with friends a few weeks in advance because I’m getting backed up, and I keep looking at my calendar in confusion. Wait, what? I’m busy until 3 weeks from now, that can’t be right. But it is. Actually, I don’t have any time until after the Memorial Day weekend, now. And somehow the friendships are so deeply gratifying. Wayne, from my poetry group, has become such an important friend it’s weird to go very many days without seeing him, and we email every day. Except for the travel bit, all the other dots connect. My nightly email from him guarantees that I end my day with a hysterical laugh usually, and always with deep gratitude. Drinks tonight with Margie will be such fun, and she’s bringing her friend Paula — and I’ll sit in surprise and gratitude that beautiful Margie and I found each other. Lynn, my other-side-of-the-world travel friend, is going to be in Thailand and Singapore while I’m in Indonesia, and the mere idea that we might arrange things to see each other during that time (we won’t, for a zillion reasons, but we could!) startles me and makes me wonder at the universe. Cyndi brings me Peeps when she sees me and is immediate and honest and warm and generous, and I can’t think of her without smiling. Janet makes my deepest bass strings rumble in resonance. So often my conversation with her starts, “I can’t tell anyone else this but I know you’ll understand . . .”  And she does. And so many other people I really want to get together with, Kelly and Stephanie and Kathy and Anna and Liz and Art, and I look at my calendar and wonder, when?

But aside from the brilliance of these beautiful people in my life, there is now a surplus of dates and fun and scheduling opportunities, and I just shake my head and wonder how I got here.

grateful for gratitude

gratitudeSeveral months ago, I learned about a thing called Grateful160. For the last couple of years I’ve tried a number of different ways to bring gratitude to the forefront of my mind, and they all worked for some period of time. This kind of journal, that kind of journal, a moleskine, an Excel spreadsheet, a little notepad tucked here or there. The cool thing about Grateful160 is that the site emails you — 1, 2, 3 or 4 times/day, morning and/or night, you get to pick. It’s just the briefest of little notes:

grateful

Some days it says Greetings! Some days Salutations! But it’s always just that — a brief little question. I get it once a day, in the late afternoon, and no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, I can quickly hit Reply and note what I’m grateful for . . . in that moment, across the day, whatever. I am the boss of my gratefulness. For a month or two, December and January, there were days where no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t think of anything. Some days I’d just reply “really hard to be grateful today.” Other days I’d squinch my eyes and just pull out something I knew I should be grateful for. Breathing, for instance.

Each week I get an email summary of the week’s entries, and the website logs and keeps it all so I can look at what I’ve written, edit anything I want, delete entries (why??). It doesn’t yet give me an option to download my entries, perhaps it will one day, but for now its bare bones simplicity works so beautifully. I haven’t missed a single day since I started on October 30, which was between Gracie’s funeral and her cremation. It seems like it would’ve been hard to find my gratitude then, except I actually did have so many things then to be grateful for. Ritual. Family. Love. Help. Friends. Courage. It became a little harder to be grateful when those big experiences were over and like the rest of us, I was all alone with myself and the remnants and wreckage of it all.

I just got the week’s summary and wanted to see what all I felt grateful for in March:

March 1 I am grateful for such a loving relationship with my kids, especially my girls.
March 2 Grateful for my friend Kelly today.
March 3 Today I am so grateful for Marnie’s life, and for what she is making of it. She is such a huge gift to me.
March 4 I am grateful that I have such a beautiful little home, of my very own.
March 5 Today I am grateful for Stanley Kunitz’s poem The Layers.
March 6 I am so very very grateful for Marian for helping me see that I’m really strong and take care of myself so well, and always have.
March 7 I am grateful for a bit of time to update my professional website today.
March 8 I am so grateful that all three of my children are alive and healthy.
March 9 Today I am grateful for my daughters, who both called me and wanted to talk to me.
March 10 I am so grateful for legislators who care about rights for my precious son.
March 11 I am so grateful for this beautiful beautiful sunny day. And a bluejay splashing in my birdbath.
March 12 I am grateful for meeting Lynn, who makes me feel so much less alone here in Austin. Shared conversation and history, shared love of travel, shared everything. So wonderful.
March 13 Today I am just grateful to be alive. That is a lot.
March 14 Again I am so very grateful to be alive, and for pizza with Katie and Trey in my pretty home tonight.
March 15 Today I am grateful for having walked with Janet, who I hope will be my new true friend.
March 16 Hope.
March 17 WORK. so grateful to have work.
March 18 Hope. So grateful for hope.
March 19 Katie’s return to life.
March 20 Today I’m grateful for the joy I feel.
March 21 Today I am so grateful that I ended my relationship with xxxfriend.
March 22 I’m so grateful to be alive again today. Grateful to have had brunch with Wayne to talk about poetry, and that he respected my boundaries. Grateful to have the chance to help Katie and Trey with their yard.
March 23 I’m grateful to be so very much alive.
March 24 I am so grateful for good sleep.
March 25 Grateful for my beautiful life….
March 26 I am so grateful to be here in Marfa, all alone in the desert. Grateful for time.
March 27 So grateful to be happy alone. Happy with solitude. Happy in Marfa.
March 28 So grateful for my trip to Marfa and for myself.
March 29 Today I am so grateful for this beautiful world, and for having all my senses so I can experience it.
March 30 Possibilities.

The only editing I did to put it here was to take out the name of my former friend. Otherwise, it’s such a wonderful record of the good things in my month, and it gives me such a palpable sense of how I’ve been. I think there’s really something to this gratitude deal. 🙂

It’s the last day of March already, unbelievable. Springtime. This is the deal about this world: it just keeps turning. Spring always comes, sometimes late, sometimes pathetically, sometimes roaring, sometimes weeping, sometimes with exuberance and joy, sometimes with barely a notice, but it always always comes. Green returns, even in Marfa, even if just for a short while, green returns. Sap runs again. Juices flow. Things wake up, crackle, peep, sproing, blossom, never really dead even though it surely looked that way. There is always at least breathing to be grateful for.

onwards and upwards!

My dear friends and loved ones, I just have to thank you so much for all the kindnesses you’ve shown me, over the past month certainly but more generally too, and for this entire difficult year. The backchannel emails, notes in Ravelry, facebook messages, flowers, letters and things in the mail (including a perfectly lovely and soft cowl, handknit by my dear friend Kty in Paris, merino and silk and shades of gray with flecks of warm brown, intended to give me a soft warm hug), and a surprise phone call from a new friend in New Zealand. I feel utterly surrounded by your care, and it’s priceless. I want to say once again that I have a lovely guest room (well…..it will be lovely once I move in and get it fixed up!) and I’d love nothing more than to show you some real Texas hospitality. So if you can swing it, come to Austin and stay with me! I’ll pick you up at the airport, I’ll make you some delicious food, we’ll see what all Austin has to offer, and we can sit on my cozy couch in front of the fire (if it’s cool) or out on my patio. It’ll be so great, I promise.

You probably don’t know what my part of Texas is really like. Maybe you have visions of Dallas, with the glass buildings and freeways (and women with really big hair lacquered with Aqua Net); or Houston, with the freeways and oil and cowboys; or San Antonio and the Alamo and the riverwalk. Those aren’t my favorite places; for me, nothing beats central Texas (deep in the heart of Texas!), which we call the Hill Country, and then the high desert of west Texas. For instance, here’s the beauty of the area around the Frio River:

There’s a lot to see in this area of the Hill Country in central Texas, and once I get settled in and am ready to ramble, I’ll rent a little cabin out in that area for a weekend. You probably also don’t know that Texas is rich with rivers; in elementary school, I had to learn all of them, in order:

So please, come to Austin. You may or may not want to come during SXSW; it’s pretty crazy here that week, but if music and entertainment and technology is your thing, you’ve got a place to stay. Wherever I am, you’ve got a place to stay. If you want to bring someone — your husband or whomever — I’ll have a queen-sized bed for you so it’ll be fine. You can stay with me but go do your own thing, if you want! I’ll provide maps and directions, and ideas of things to see and places to go.

What might we do when you visit? I’ll cook, but we’ll also go out to eat because Austin has some wonderful little restaurants. Live music? Oh yeah, lots of places for hearing live music — even at the grocery store. I’m not kidding. If it’s warm (which it usually is), we can go swimming at Barton Springs Pool, a real gem. If you like to sunbathe topless, you won’t be alone. Barton Springs is a spring-fed pool that is nearly 1,000 feet long, and maintains a yearly temperature of 68 degrees. Sweet.

I prefer swimming at Deep Eddy, but Barton Springs is always popular, and I’ll take you there, if you prefer.

After the misery of this past month, and the difficulty of the last two days, I am feeling ready to look ahead. The sorrows and grief are with me still, but I’m finding a way to carry them a little more lightly in my heart. It still catches me by the throat throughout the day (and it’s worst at night), but hell. I am alive, and life is everything…..including wonderful.

Looking ahead to the rest of the year, it looks like this:

  • For now, I have plenty of work, which is good. I need to treat my business more like a business, and I suspect it’ll then start behaving like a business. Funny how that works.
  • I move in on December 1, and will have two weeks to work and get settled before it’s time to fly back to NYC because…
  • On Friday the 14th, my friends Temma and Yvonne are organizing a party at Temma’s lovely place, and many of my friends will come. It’s an opportunity for me to see people I didn’t see before I flew away so quickly, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ll return to Austin Monday night the 17th.
  • Then, the last couple of weeks of December, I’ll keep settling into my little place. I’ll keep working. I’ll celebrate my own quiet version of the holidays, I’ll pull into my home and find my way, and I suspect I’ll be happy (and sad). Thankfully, I’ve never been stuck on the details of the specific day; Christmas is whenever we’re together, there’s nothing magical about the 25th. At midnight of the new year, I’ll go stand outside and look at the moon, and smile at the new year of my life, so different than I imagined.
  • I look forward to finding a big cozy chair to put next to my fireplace. I look forward to sitting in my chair, by the fire, and knitting and watching movies. Marnie is helping me choose a bicycle, and I look forward to early morning or late night bike rides through my beautiful new neighborhood, with its quiet, gently rolling, tree-lined streets. I look forward to finding the rhythm of my days, to learning how to take possession of my life alone, and to being ready to start moving outwards again. I can see it coming, I really can.

It sounds sweet to me. It’s possible that in the spring, my husband and I will take a trip together, Costa Rica perhaps. We always traveled together so very well, it’s one of the best things we did together, and we’re hoping we can pull that off.

So once more, thank you for helping me through this extraordinarily difficult month, and for the incredible ways you have reached out to me. I’m so grateful for all the connections I have, big and small, in-person and online, near and far. What would I do without you. Really, I ask: what would I do without you?

Help. Thanks. Wow.

Do you like Anne Lamott’s writing? I do, I’ve read every single thing she’s ever written. She is probably the greatest influence on what and how I write; she gives voice to her petty struggling self and I try to do that too, because I secretly know that even you are petty, though no one would ever know that about you, so you are stuck all alone knowing that unless other people ‘fess up. I love that about her. When I’ve been unable to read, at various times in my life, I’ve always found my way back to reading, and to life, through her books. I’ve read everything she’s ever written, and if you like her too, friend her on facebook for a near-daily dose of her generous spirit and liberal-hearted view of the world.

Last night I read her new book, Help Thanks Wow. I’d pre-ordered it months ago for my kindle, and poof! There it was, late last night, just in time. I was lying awake, struggling in the dark, and decided that her words could probably help. I read the whole thing in an hour or so, it’s a short (4 chapter) book. It’s a pointedly spiritual book (all hers are, of course, but this one is especially so) focusing on the three prayers she says. Those are my prayers too; you could of course argue that all prayers come down to those three topics, and you’d be right, but those are exactly the prayers I say. In this regard, I am a wordy minimalist. Help. Thanks. WOW. Occasionally my help prayers take the pleading form:  pleasepleasepleaseplease. 

Helphelphelp (my dear daughter in her grief, my suffering husband in his pain, me in my grief and pain and suffering). Thankyouthankyouthankyou (for strength and courage and love and friendship and all that surrounds me right now, and always). Wow. Just, wow. Pain and love, all at once. Wow. Amen.

sacred and profane

Durkheim thought the distinction between the sacred and the profane characterized the essential place and role of religion — religion was about sacred things, taboo things, things set apart, and the rest, the mundane ordinary concerns, were profane. It wasn’t a distinction between good and evil; the sacred can be good or evil, as can the profane. It was an idea that received a lot of criticism, and was pretty quickly dismissed as not being a universal distinction, but it’s a mistake to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Maybe the problem is the various other ideas that connect to “sacred,” or maybe it’s a limited conception of what the word ‘sacred’ means. If we pull outwards a bit and think that sacred relates to existence, to the 4am questions of life (assuming the 2am questions are smaller, she is so mean to me at work, i forgot about paying that bill don’t forget tomorrow, what am i going to do about this weight i’ve put on) — the 4am questions, what am I doing with my life, how did i get off track with what matters to me, those are sacred. They’re existential, about our existence. Why did Grace die? And now what will we do? Sacred.

When you spend a lot of time amid sacred concerns, returning to profane matters is hard. This is one reason soldiers struggle on re-entry, why they don’t feel as close to others as they do to their fellow soldiers. Compared to life and death, who gives a crap about doing the grocery shopping? Compared to being punched in the face by the loss of a child, . . . whatever. This thing is happening, that thing is going on, the other thing needs attention, blah. Hard to muster the oomph to tend to it. Yesterday, my first day at home, passed in a blur. What did I do? I don’t even know, really; we took a walk in Riverside Park (chilly!), which I remember because I took a picture of it and facebook friends like and comment on it. Oh — yeah. I guess I was there yesterday. I ate breakfast and dinner that my husband cooked for me, excellent meals if I stop and think, remember them. Huevos rancheros for breakfast. Lemony garlic shrimp for dinner. Yeah, those were good meals, he’s such a good cook. But what else did I do? All day long, what did I do? I don’t know. It was all trivial.

You know what people say (me too, I’ve said it) — keep a gratitude journal. Well, guess what! I do. I’ve tried a dozen different approaches, spiral notebooks, text or Word documents on my laptop, pages on my blog, special bound books, all kinds of things. I keep them for a while but eventually stop doing it, as much a function of routine and technique as anything else. I find it simple to think of things I’m grateful for, that’s never the problem. And in the periods when it’s hard to find something I’m grateful for, the search itself is meaningful — that’s when looking hard helps the most. My sister told me about a very elegant system called Grateful160, and it’s just what I need, technique-wise. Every evening I get an email that’s some variant of this:

You can request an email once or twice a day (or 3 or 4 times), and you have a choice of morning and/or evening. I can even respond on my phone, so if I’m out somewhere, it’s still simple enough to hit reply and record what I’m grateful for right then. Then, once a week, the system sends you the week’s entries. You can also go to your page on the site to read or edit them, at any time:

Lately, the things I’m grateful for are large-scale, sacred kinds of things. Ritual. Peace. Strength. Beauty. Love. As I re-enter my regular life they’ll probably become smaller (after this week anyway, with the election on Tuesday [hope I have something to be grateful for there] and my birthday on Tuesday, and then a weekend in the Catskills). Or maybe that’s the challenge — to dig deeper, to keep finding sacred things in myself and my life, even when the events of my life become more profane. 

I feel like I’m just watching my life and the world right now, in some way — like there’s a pane of glass between us. It’s clear glass, it’s not obscuring the view, but it’s there. It’s not that I don’t hear what you say to me, it’s not that I’m not paying attention, it’s just that it doesn’t stick, it slides right down the glass. My experience isn’t registering either, nothing sticks. I see and hear and smell and taste, but in the next moment it’s simply gone. I’m sorry if you have to tell me things over and over, and I assume this is temporary, a function of my blanked-out mind in the face of Grace’s death, something I still struggle to believe is real. Wait, what? We’ve been waiting all this time! What? We’re all ready for her. What? 

I look out the window and see that it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday. The sky is a beautiful shade of blue, the brilliant sun is slanting toward me in its autumn slouch, the air is nicely cold and the radiators are hissing. There’s a palpable sense of time and place, I can see that through the glass.