better than ever

See the twinkle? This is at Millay's home, and he was tickled pink to be there.
See the twinkle in his eye? This is at Millay’s home, and he was tickled pink to be there.

I have a great friend in my monthly poetry group named George. First of all, George is the most knowledgeable person about poetry I have ever met. Ever. And he can recite huge swaths at the drop of a hat. He’s older than me, I don’t know his age, but man I enjoy his ability to do that kind of recitation. Last year he took a road trip vacation to Steepletop, Edna St Vincent Millay’s home in Maine. That’s what he did for his vacation. So George is definitely 100% my kind of guy. And his eyes twinkle and he’s very funny in a sly way that you might miss if you aren’t paying attention. (And he does yoga! There doesn’t seem to be much of anything you might randomly mention that George doesn’t do.)

Every month when I see him and ask how he’s doing, he answers, “Better than ever!” I hadn’t noticed the pattern; last month in my delight at his answer, I commented on it and he said it’s always his answer, and it puzzles people. Once a grocery store clerk said, “I wish could say that,” so George told her to stop what she was doing, immediately, and look at him. Then he said, “OK, repeat after me. Better.” “Better.” “Than.” “Than.” “Ever.” “Ever.” With his characteristic twinkly smile, he then said, “Now you know how to say it!” He said that it’s an important way he helps himself feel good, and when he gives into the various troubles of aging, and dwells on them, he does not feel very good at all and starts going downhill. So “better than ever!” is not just a verbal trick, a magic mantra, it’s a way of orienting himself to this day of his life. His shoulder might ache, but hey — today he is better than ever.

That aspect of George resonates with me, although I don’t say that phrase. What I do say, though, is “wonderful.” Oh, this is wonderful, that’s wonderful, you are wonderful, the day is wonderful, my sandwich is wonderful, that ice water is wonderful, YogaGlo is wonderful, my friends are wonderful (or gorgeous, or beautiful, or amazing, or magnificent). A lifetime ago, when I was getting to know the members of the very large family I married into — and before I realized that ‘wonderful’ is my most characteristic word — I was talking to one of my husband’s brothers, and after a while he leaned down, frowned a little bit, and said, “Really, Lori? Is it wonderful? Is everything wonderful? ‘It’s just wunnerful!’” And then he cackled. I still am not entirely sure if he was making fun of me, but I think he was.

This occurred to me as I was re-reading my last post about my. . .well, ok, I’ll say it. . .wonderful week. (But it was!) I saw what any editor would identify as the gross overuse of those words. Gross overuse. Anyone can see that, come on, it’s egregious. For heaven’s sake. Bad writing, leaning hard toward purple.

But here’s the deal, and I just mean this from the bottom of my heart. My friends truly are beautiful, and brilliant, and amazing, and wonderful, and gorgeous. My daughters truly are all those things, and magnificent, and loving. The sky really is wonderful. The things I mentioned really were extraordinary. I think I share the impulse with George, and I think it is probably why we are happy people. I don’t know if George has always been this way, but I have always been this way. My former brother-in-law commented on that when I was 21 years old and I’m still unconsciously at it.

So maybe it’s not your automatic way of being in the world, and maybe you 100% love the way you are in the world and so good on ya! Maybe you enjoy a bit of a grump (my husband in NY has a daily need to mope) now and then, and that’s just fine. I do too. But I think that if you just pause for a second and notice that sky, you’d see that it’s wonderful. There it is, just doing its thing, putting on a dramatic, ever-changing show for you, and you’re probably not noticing it. And then I think you’ll feel a little spike of happy. I think if you paused for a minute and really tasted your food and thought about it — wow (oops, another of my oft-used words, wow), that salad is really wonderful, so fresh and crunchy, and the pepitas just make it all work, and blue cheese ohmygod, it’s really wonderful — another little spike of happy. Really see your friend when you’re talking to her, just really see her and you’ll see that she is super wonderful. Magnificent. There she is, being herself in your life. Wow.

Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.
Those teenagers danced all the way across the bridge going over the highway. Maybe it was that wonderful sky.

But really — just pause for a second. LOOK AT THAT SKY! Is it not wonderful? (Also: George is wonderful, and so are you.) Right on.

the word is just too BLAND

“Happy.” It’s like “nice.” Both are valued things, of course, but meh. What bland, too-simple words. It’s just a word, happy, so maybe the problem is really how we’ve come to think about it. Smiley faces, a particular feeling of some degree of joy or contentment or pleasure, be happy, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof because I’m happy. Happy. I’m happy, are you happy? The happiness industry, do these seven things to be happy, here are the daily habits of happy people. Gratitude makes you happy. Happy.

Yesterday I was scanning my playlists, looking for one to listen to while I cleaned my house. There’s a lot of overlap of music on some of the lists, but the one I most reliably listen to for background music is one titled “happy.” I clicked it and scanned the list deciding whether to choose shuffle or the order they’re in, and busted out laughing at the songs on the list. There are some that most people would consider happy songs, but about one-third of the list includes songs that no one would consider happy songs. And in fact they’re songs that fill my heart with melancholy, or pull up a very sad memory, and some are even associated with such a painful memory I have to sit down. That’s my happy playlist, and it reliably makes me happy, the whole thing.

weavingBecause happiness isn’t simply a shallow thing on the surface. Happiness can be complex, happiness contains some sadness, some memories of loss, some melancholy, and the ability to hold those things as part of the complex experience of a lived life. That sad song that makes me have to sit down? It really kind of breaks my heart, and I can only listen to it once or I have to get in bed and cry. But as part of the tapestry of my playlist, it’s that dark shot of weft that deepens everything. The memory of love lost, or happiness experienced with a thrill and then squandered or shifted, those were happy too, I was happy then too, and so my heart aches from the loss but I also hold the greater memories of the happiness, the joy. I’ll bet you’ve had the experience of hearing a song connected to a loss and filling up with tears, but also feeling something good, some connection, some remembrance, a mixed feeling of happy/sad. Maybe even laughing and crying at the same time. (That’s so me.)

I do have blissed-out moments, and quite often, where I experience awe and have no words, or when the moment is just so present and I am aware of my life in a particular way, or when Oliver smiles at me, or when I’m with my beloved children and we’re happy together. Or when I’m making beautiful food, or my writing is going well, or I’m dancing and laughing in the park. I have those moments that are kind of purely “happy.” But most often, my experience of happiness holds the complications of the various kinds and experiences of happiness; they feel less fleeting, and with an amalgam of contentment, pleasure, something, with the more complex experience of happiness. For as much as life really only happens in the moment, and as much as I strive to be present in it, the truth is also that I have lived a long life, filled with a staggering number of (and kinds of) experiences, and they are in me, body and soul. Some make me happy because I survived . . . but that happiness is real, even if it came out of darkness. So I sit in this present moment and feel my life resonating through me, in this present day. (Plus, as my daughter Marnie said about me in a Facebook birthday post, I do love to feel all the feelings. That makes me happy, being able to feel them all.)

I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. :)
I thought it was so loving and true in places that I saved it. 🙂

Maybe this is just me. I never have a clue if my experience is weird and deeply idiosyncratic, or if you feel something of it too. If you don’t, then here’s an explanation of one way happiness can be deeply felt. And if you do, you aren’t the only one!

Happy Sunday. I hope the sun shines on your face today. xo

teachers *everywhere*

I’m not going to name names, but over the last several days I have learned so many great things from some of the women in my life. …..Pause here for a big whoop! whoop! for the women in my life, and you do one for the women in yours. Amen, sisters. I have learned things and been directed to resources and cared for. It’s been a very rich time, even though this was a miserable week of excruciating headaches beginning Tuesday at 1am and finally ending this morning. Man. It’s been rough.

But here are some of the things I have learned:

  • Spontaneous calls from down under are a blast on a Friday night just before going to bed. Highly recommended — get one if you can!
  • The Wake-Up Project, based in Australia, shared with me by a true sweetheart when the world’s tragedies and troubles were weighing me down a little more than I could take. Check it out. The kindness cards they have are only available in Australia, but I can make my own and participate. The focal point of the project is mindful living and kindness — how great is that?
  • I’ve lost the weight I wanted to lose, I know how to eat now, so it’s time to figure out how to just maintain where I am. Where eating is concerned I’ve been an all-or-nothing eater my whole life — though I eat very differently now, all the fruits and vegetables and whole grains so maybe the whole game has shifted. I am nervous about being able to stay here, and a friend said, “Believe in your ability to keep it off.” !!!! You know, I’ve never done that! It was never in my head. If anything was in my head, it was an unarticulated wonder how long this will last. What excellent and yet very simple advice. Yeah, I believe I will be able to keep it off. I do. Apply this to a problem you’ve struggled over for a long time.
  • prayersPray simply for divine harmony. I have the most unformed, uncertain beliefs of a spiritual nature. I hang on to certain principles — be kind, love others, help when you can –but I don’t have a dogma, a belief of any kind in an afterlife, no idea who I talk to when I say prayers (most of which are like Anne Lamott’s:  help, thanks, wow). When someone I love is struggling in some way I send good thoughts, etc., but still have an impulse to look out to the stars and say their names. But usually I’m being bossy and deciding what should be done. Instead, my dear friend prays for divine harmony, and I just love that. Heaven knows I don’t know the best thing, and heaven knows some of the very best things that have happened to me were born out of the worst things. I don’t know, I really like it and find a kind of deep comfort from it.
  • It’s far too complex and detailed for a bullet point in a blog post, but a darling friend told me about a transformative and healing kind of writing. The metaphors in the approach made me cry and they feel so deeply true. I want to share it with a couple of people I know.

goodMy beautiful friends are going through life writ large: falling in love, planning trips, going to Italy, returning from a family memorial service, hoping for new jobs, waiting for boyfriends to arrive, enjoying the happiness of a healing partner, dealing with cancer in their families, too many of those, dealing with loss, being filled with pride in their children, adoring their children, worrying about their children, life. I feel such incredible privilege getting to dance in the margins with them, share the hurt and worry with them. Such a privilege. And me, the back and forth traveling, a week of hard pain, lovely dinner with my children and grandson Friday night, weekly and reliable [wonderful] chat with my Chicago daughter Saturday morning, the final end of the lawsuit hallelujah, joys in my children and grandson, delicious food all around, gorgeous faces smiling at me, pleasure in my wonderful life, going to the theater with beautiful friends on Wednesday, and book club on Thursday. It’s worth pausing long and hard and noticing. My life is really wonderful right now and nothing hurts. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right, for the moment. It hasn’t been in the past, and it won’t be again, because that’s the nature of life — so it’s even more important to breathe and be mindful when it is.

I hope yours is. And if it’s not, your turn will absolutely come round again. Happy Sunday y’all. xo

it’s very nice being off the world!

solitude, so restorative
solitude, so restorative

Usually when I’m “off the world” it’s because I’m on the other side of the world, on vacation. But last Friday, when I finished work for the day, I stepped off all by myself. And it was wonderful. I wasn’t completely off the world, of course. I got a wonderful haircut Saturday afternoon (if you’re in Austin, this is the place — go see Natalie. Best haircut I have ever gotten, ever.). I talked to Marnie on Saturday, as usual; I had a bunch of back and forth with Katie; Lynn called and Cyndi called with good news.

Otherwise, it was just me alone in my house. The weather was kind of glum, needing to rain but it just wouldn’t, so I was happy to stay indoors. I kept the television off — usually it’s background noise, but it marks the time in such a fast way. Half-hour gone. Half-hour gone. Half-hour gone. Day, gone. I made a few playlists of quiet music for those times music would be good, but I spent a lot of time in silence. Boy did I need that.

One thing I wanted to do was get my house clean. It was all brand new when I moved in so it was shiny and unspoiled, and while I’ve kept it clean and neat I haven’t really done deep cleaning. So Friday I hunkered down and got the whole house clean. By the time I was finished, it was late to make dinner so I had a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers. A nice finish to a busy day. Over the weekend, though,  I made some REALLY good food, boy:

Miso and Soba Noodle Soup with Roasted Sriracha Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms
Miso and Soba Noodle Soup with Roasted Sriracha Tofu and Shiitake Mushrooms

Here’s the recipe for the soup; it’s very simple, but a lot of steps. ALL WORTH IT. That was my Saturday supper. Sunday morning I got up and made my dinner because it needed to spend the day getting all married and flavorful. At the last minute I added the avocados.

Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers and Avocado in a Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette
Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers and Avocado in a Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette

Holy cow did that have a lot of flavor. There’s a bit of cayenne in the salad (I added twice as much as the recipe called for). Here’s the recipe — just wonderful, and simple. The most complicated part was boiling the corn and cutting it off the cob.

I wrote a lot. I read a lot. I made things. I meditated. I did some yoga. I took a long hot bath with lavender salts. I made some little floor blankets and bibs for Oliver, since I loved doing that kind of machine quilting for his giant quilt. I ordered the little foot I needed for my machine and I was off to the races.

quilting in progress
quilting in progress
finished stack of baby goodies
finished stack of baby goodies

And then last night, as my weekend retreat at home drew to an end, I lit the fire, made a pot of tea, pulled out Gracie’s quilt which is unfinished, and watched Top of the Lake on Netflix. I’d been uneasy about finishing her quilt for a lot of reasons, but after talking to Katie and Trey I suddenly understood that I did need and want to finish it. And sitting there in the quiet, after my beautiful weekend, it all made sense to me in a deep way. I quilted her name into the quilt, and it felt like my way of saying goodbye to her and leaving some of my own beauty and love for her in the world. It’s my way of loving Gracie after being fully ready for our sweet Oliver, whose arrival is imminent.

handquilting, still and always my favorite handwork
hand quilting, still and always my favorite handwork

I heartily recommend taking a weekend just for yourself. Yours will look very different from mine. I feel like a new person as this busy week gets off to its start. Happy Monday, everyone. xo

work day

Today, no work for me beyond getting Oliver’s quilt top made, sewing a couple of crib sheets, and doing some writing. It’s another gorgeous day here, although not 82 degrees like we had yesterday (“only” 71, I’ll take it). A side-by-side comparison of my place in Austin yesterday and NYC yesterday:

Marc and I had such a Valentine’s Day blast yesterday. My day started with valentines in my email from him, and then a knock on my door and there was my daughter Katie, standing there holding a box of Krispie Kreme donuts and a container of chocolate milk. Ah, my sweet girl. I started making spaghetti sauce around 11am so it could simmer all day. At 6, I took my laptop into the kitchen and turned on Skype, and Marc and I made our dinners together.

that's him on the laptop, cooking in NYC while I cook in Austin. We talked to each other the whole time.
that’s him on the laptop, cooking in NYC while I cook in Austin. We talked to each other the whole time.

We both had spaghetti with homemade sauce and big salads. When we were ready to eat, I moved my laptop to the dining table and we faced each other and ate dinner. We actually looked at each other and talked more last night than we would’ve had we eaten together, because we usually watch The Daily Show or Colbert while we eat. It was so great. We cleaned our kitchens together, then we stretched out to watch a movie together. The timing was tricky because we both had to start the movie at the same moment but we did it. The laptops were there so we could see each other, talk about the movie. (We watched the Robert Redford movie, All is Lost. Almost no dialogue, and only him on the screen. Amazing movie.)

When the movie ended, we talked a little bit and then wished each other sweet dreams and logged off. It was actually a wonderful Valentine’s Day, even though it was very nonusual.

Today I’ll open up my house so the fresh air can flow through, and in addition to sewing and writing, I’ll make a lemon cake to take to brunch tomorrow. Busy day for me, but every bit happy. Sunshine makes me happy. Making things makes me happy. Writing makes me happy. My sweet little home makes me happy. Daydreaming about Oliver makes me happy. My children make me happy, and my husband. My family, my friends, all of you “out there” living your lives make me happy.

Happy Saturday. xox

charm

charmEven in my depression — perhaps because it’s mild-ish — I am not immune to the various charms of New York City. And perhaps my lack of immunity stems from the fact that I live in Austin. I remember being frequently exhausted by and pissed off at New York when I lived here, so knowing both places allows me to relish their different charms. I always want to share the wonderful things about both places so my friends in both places get to know each place, because both are important to me, part of me. So, to wit:

New York: Walking, oh the walking. Sure, you could go down the stairs into the stinky subway, stand on the crowded platform, get in the even more crowded train (sometimes boiling hot, sometimes freezing, sometimes reeking of the homeless guy or vomit or unexplainable liquids), and traverse the city with relative ease. The price of a trip has gone up, but it’s relatively cheap and easy, especially after you learn the different lines.  Sometimes you have to do that. But when you can, it’s a walker’s paradise. Sunday night I walked from the area around Columbia University all the way down to Chelsea, about 1.5 hours, more or less, 88 blocks. I walked past  Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle, Times Square (ugh), Madison Square Garden, and into Chelsea. There was always something to see, and I rarely had to stop except for the crowds in Times Square. I could’ve walked along Central Park West for a good portion, another fine walk. Last night I walked home from Columbus Circle, 55 blocks. Every day I take at least one walk in gorgeous Riverside Park, usually 2-3 miles. You can’t help but walk in New York, even if you take a subway. There are great places to walk in Austin — your own neighborhood, the hike and bike trail, various greenbelts, but mostly you have to drive to them (and often it’s sweltering). It’s an effort. The NYC down side: You have to do this no matter the weather. In the summer the place reeks of pee and trash and homeless people, the subway platforms are dank and hot, and you still have blocks to walk to your destination when you leave the subway. The streets and buildings hold and radiate the heat. In the winter, you do this in ice and snow and bleak and whistling crosstown winds. Brrr.

the fruit and vegetable stand on my corner, one of several in a couple-block radius
the fruit and vegetable stand on my corner, one of several in a couple-block radius

Shopping: Of course you can get anything here. There are districts for things. Need a button? Go to the BUTTON DISTRICT. Yes, there is a button district. Want some fabric, some flowers, some meat, whatever? There is a district just for that thing. Want to do the most fancy shopping? Fifth Avenue, there you go. But even better, oh so much better, the daily shopping is just wonderful. Walking down Broadway you’ll pass table after table stacked high with used books. And usually small tables in between with people playing chess. Or table after table of handmade jewelry. Small stands selling clothing, hats, stockings, hats, scarves. In the winter they shift to warm gloves and scarves and hats. When it’s rainy, out come the umbrellas. One stand after another. Just need a fresh avocado, some bananas, lettuce, potatoes, cherries, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, anything? Walk over to the corner, this one or that one, competing fruit and vegetable stands. Pick your produce, the guy weighs it, you give him cash, he puts it in a little bag, and you walk home. Done. If you need regular groceries, walk to the other corner to the market. Sometimes you go to big markets, like Westside or Fairway or Trader Joe’s, giant places with everything. And “everything” (especially at Fairway) means everything, every kind of ethnic ingredient or food you could want.  Or, of course, you could go to Chinatown, or little India, or any of the multitude of ethnic neighborhoods for anything under the sun. The NYC downside: Sometimes you just need a mall! You don’t know what kind of outfit you want but you’ll know it when you see it, so you wander the mall and go in and out of all the stores until you find it. Here you have to walk around in the weather, and maybe you’ll find it in the shops in one neighborhood but maybe you’ll have to keep moving to other neighborhoods.

a range of very good Mexican food trucks!
a range of very good Mexican food trucks!

Eating. Anything. ‘Nuff said. The most amazing restaurants in the world, neighborhood restaurants, any kind of ethnic food you might ever want (except Tex-Mex! Come up here, Chuy’s!). Flor de Mayo, a Cuban/Chinese restaurant, all kinds of fusions, little holes in the wall, neighborhood stalwarts. Just within a couple of blocks of my apartment there are a few Ethiopian restaurants, Korean, Thai, Chinese, Greek, Italian, Turkish, diners, Japanese, fried chicken, Lebanese, Cuban, Mexican (interior!), health food, those just off the top of my head. Within a couple-of-blocks radius, and my street butts up against Riverside Park so it’s not even a full circle. And then there are the little trucks; I prefer to get my Lebanese food from the truck on the corner than the restaurant. My old neighborhood Greek restaurant is pretty shady (we prefer to go to one in Astoria Queens), but Marc has been going to it since he went to Sarah Lawrence in the very early 1970s. The downside: Can’t think of one.

People. People in New York are generally warm and friendly — it just might not look, on the surface, like it looks in other places. But if you’re on the street and lost, you can ask anyone and they’ll direct you. If you’re on the train, you can just ask generally and all kinds of people will chime in and give you great directions. Sometimes the New Yorkers will start debating various options to give you the best advice. Once, before I moved here, I was on a train and lost, and a woman overheard me. She got off the train with me, walked me to the right place, and told me where to go. Then she went back to her own train, I guess. Yesterday Marc and I were walking in Riverside Park and I saw a key hanging by a ribbon from a fence; we guessed that someone must have dropped their key, someone else found it, and hung it on the fence post in case the owner came back looking for it, so they’d spot it easily. It touched me a lot. We all live in each other’s faces, in a way, and while we know how to erect a bubble around ourselves when we need to, we’re all kind of the same in some way. Women put on their make-up in the mornings on the train. In late winter, people sleep, heads back and mouths open, in their now-tired winter clothes, and it’s so easy to see the children they used to be. People talk and laugh, sing, sometimes cry, they read, they close their eyes, they look exhausted or happy or bored. I really love that. The NYC downsideSorry, but New Yorkers are pretty parochial. Texans, you’ll get this: they think the world drops off at the Manhattan borders, and no place else matters. (I know. Texans think the same thing.) I actually love that about both groups, but Texans are more often open to New York than New Yorkers are open to Texas. In both places, when I mention the other place the response is “you must be glad to be out of there,” but in Texas they first say, “Welcome back!”  But I love you both, and find people in both places to be real and warm and open and longing to connect.

711Everything else. You have to learn how to tune your eyes, but it’s all there. That 7-11 is just part of the block, as are McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Dunkin Donuts, but they’re very easy to miss because the place is big and tall and dazzling. There are SO many churches here — synagogues and dazzlingly huge Catholic churches and Baptist churches and Korean Baptist churches and Methodist churches and Lutheran churches and mosques. It’s all here, but they’re kind of blended into the surroundings until you learn how to see them.

johnAnd in my very near old  neighborhood is the glory of St John the Divine, a glorious Gothic cathedral. For a couple of years I went to the Winter Solstice concert that I’d listened to for years on NPR — a thrill to be in the audience — and one year I went to the Summer Solstice concert. One year I went to Christmas Eve services to hear the choir. The gardens around it are amazing, as are the various sculptures. I’ll take pictures sometime.

The deal is that everything is here, but you have to learn how to see it. It’s much easier to see in Austin, spread out as it is.

This morning I’m heading over to the Museum of Natural History to see the sperm whale/Moby Dick exhibit, and I cannot wait. Pictures to follow! I write this post so my Austin friends will learn why I love New York City so much (and know that many of you love it too, and may even come here when I’m here, which would be amazing!), just as I write about Austin so my New York friends learn about it (though they are almost all unwilling to venture into Texas, even to see me, which frankly annoys me a lot).

Happy Wednesday, everyone. I love you all. xo

fine-tune your eyes

Today’s song is Lucky, by Kat Edmonson, an Austin singer-songwriter (we’re rich with those). Here she is in her debut on Austin City Limits singing this sweet little song:

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Her voice is so unique, so clean and clear, and her enunciation is great. I love that little song, lucky you, lucky lucky me. It’s of course a love song, but nevertheless it just fits how I’m feeling these days — even the little bopping tone. It’s like I am bopping around, bouncing on the balls of my feet, grateful as all hell. Every day when my gratitude email comes in and I click reply, to say what I’m grateful for, it takes me so long to formulate an answer because the answer is EVERYTHING. My life. Everything.

I’m 54. (YAY!) I’m in surprisingly good health, given what I don’t do to take care of myself and I need to change that ASAP but the point is, I’m in good health. (YAY!) I have three beautiful, wonderful children who are in good health, who have husbands I am crazy about, and who are (all) super fine human beings in the world — and they let me love them, and they love me. We count on each other, we help each other, we root for each other, we comfort each other, we celebrate each other. (YAY!) Although details sometimes escape my memory, I have a beautiful mind, capable of complex thought, capable of delighting me and helping me appreciate the world, and able to do everything I need it to do. (YAY!) I don’t have extra money, but I have enough money. I have work that I’m able to rely on, and I am my own pretty nice boss. (YAY!) I have so many friends I hardly know what to do, new friends and old friends, friends to have fun with, friends to inspire me, friends to count on, friends I’ve known since 1991 and friends I’ve known since January. Friends in Austin, friends around the country and around the world. Lucky, lucky me. (YAY!) I get to travel a lot, somehow; on Sunday a client is flying me to Beverly Hills for the week, putting me up in a fancy boutique hotel at Wilshire and Rodeo, covering all my expenses and paying me; I get to go to Chicago often enough, and NYC often enough, and then the genius around the world trips. Amazingly lucky me. (YAY!)

But here’s the thing. I don’t have any extra money, and I work for myself and while so far work has been reliable, it sure could dry up any time. What if I got really sick — cancer, a stroke — what if I couldn’t do this work? I don’t have enough money for any of that. What if I were in a car accident and couldn’t work for several months? What would happen to me? I don’t want to be a huge burden on my kids, all of whom are struggling along without any money to spare, themselves. What if I fell at home, or something like that happened — I live all alone, what if I didn’t get the help I needed? What if? What if? What if? What’ll happen to me when I’m 70, will I still be sitting in this chair, in this little rented duplex? What? How? Those fears are real — and not just pulled out of the sky, you know? I don’t have any extra money, that’s true, that’s real. I don’t have someone in my life with big resources who could help me if I got in big trouble. Nope, don’t have that.

You may remember that earlier this year, say, January(ish), I was really freaking out about all this. So scared, so aware that I have absolutely no safety net, and those 4am fears dominated my thoughts. My beautiful friend Marian kind of helped me see one thing differently and my beautiful daughters helped me and time helped me and I remembered that somehow I’ve always been fine, despite some mighty dreadful circumstances, somehow I’ve always made it work, and somehow I will. And that bridge is off in the distance, those bridges, and maybe I won’t even have to cross them, ever, but if I do, (a) odds are good I won’t be crossing them all by myself, and (b) while I may not know how, I do know that somehow I’ll figure things out, somehow we will all figure things out.

AND — and this is the really important part — here I am, today, 54 in good health and with a loving family and lots and lots of wonderful friends and enough work and I get to travel and my mind is pretty great and I love everything and there is so much to love and the birds! I have those beautiful little songbirds out my kitchen window all day every day. Today I can do what I can to help future me, I can be frugal with my money and try to gather some resources, I can do that today. But I have to fine-tune my vision, keep it on how it actually is right now not in the past and not in the future, everything I actually have right now, who I actually am right now — which is a very lucky person. Lucky, lucky me.

finding happy

I realize — I really do — that you need to be generally my age to appreciate music of the 70s, but this came up on my playlist yesterday and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it. Remember this great old song?

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Anyway, I was already feeling happy so perhaps it just landed on fertile [happy] soil and my happiness had less to do with that great old song, and more to do with how I was already feeling.

Temperamentally — if in fact this is a thing that stems from temperament — I am a happy person. I find happiness pretty easily, and I think my baseline feeling is content. I’ve known people who were constitutionally at odds, uneasy, out of sorts, uncomfortable, and I’m lucky that that’s not my default state. I am, I’m lucky that way. Yesterday I read this quote, which left me thinking:

What most people wanted was the happiness of having what other people wanted. Then they had brief moments of an inferior happiness when they only got what they themselves but nobody else wanted. This rather spoiled things. Some people made mistakes in their opinion of what other people wanted, but if they didn’t find out they managed to be happy, maybe wondering a little once in a while what everybody wanted this for. Others wasted so much time trying to have what other people wanted that they never knew they were perfectly happy without it. The biggest jolt in growing up was to discover that that you didn’t like what others liked and they thought you were crazy to like what you liked. ~Dawn Powell

What makes you happy? Do you know? Here’s a short list from the extremely long list of things that make me so so happy:

  • knowing my children and getting any moment with them — on the phone, in person, over email
  • my little warbly birds, every single day
  • lots of music
  • an excellent bite of something: a crisp gala apple, a creamy avocado, a crunchy salad, a moist slice of cake, a gooey enchilada
  • friends
  • my little garden
  • my beautiful comfortable bed, all my own
  • my sweet home and the way it reflects me
  • books, writers, poems, poets, reading something that makes me feel known or excited or challenged or moved
  • my own words
  • that first glass of water
  • mastery . . . or amateur playing, either one!
  • learning something new
  • getting to love people, and feeling loved
  • emotional complexity, philosophical complexity, intellectual complexity
  • my life
  • K.C. and the Sunshine Band, always. Mad Men, Breaking Bad.
  • regaining control after I’ve let things slide — every day, a new chance

Yeah, that’s an OK starter list. Every day when I get my gratitude email, I have to sift through all the things I have to be grateful for, and it’s such a long list. I am a very lucky person.

I think Dawn Powell is right about this issue of what we want and what others want. Like that old Sufi story of the man who looks for his lost keys in the middle of the street instead of in his house, because the light is better out there — that’s a lost cause. You have to go inside, it’s an inside job. Who cares what other people want, who cares what makes them happy (unless you’re on the search for how to help someone feel happy of course), you have to find your own. I doubt seriously that listening to the Spice Girls sing Say You’ll Be There makes you giddy, as it does me, and that’s just fine — it’s going to make me giddy every time, whatever you might think about that. It’s my private happiness. But here, I’ll share, just in case:

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Marilyn Monroe and Philippe Halman, 1959. This photo always makes me so happy.
Marilyn Monroe and Philippe Halman, 1959. This photo always makes me so happy.

You’ll have your own idiosyncratic sources of course, which is the point. I think one way to be happy is not to dismiss these little things, not to wave them away as inconsequential. If your only “happy” comes with big giant things — vacation, a new house/car/job/partner, money — you won’t be happy all that often. But opportunities for happiness are right there, all the time. All the time.

Find your happy, chase it, chase it down, grab it, hold it to you, soak it up. Life is hard and trouble is gonna come, no worries about that, so chase what you can when you can. And if the happy is tiny, hold it tight.

 

 

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spuds

Sometimes the best happy is the small potatoes happy. I’m not dissing the “knock your socks off” happy, it’s great. But there’s something just so satisfying about the small potatoes happy. Here are the small potatoes happy in the last couple of days of my life:

    • A client of mine who refers to himself as my “Jewish dad” just kept on being kind to me, over and over. And he sent me little emails conveying messages from his wife, my “Jewish mother.” Sweet.
    • Katie and Trey ate dinner at my house, and the company was so sweet, the food was so good (shrimp and asparagus risotto, a salad, and apple crisp), and I got to have members of my family around my table. Is there anything happier than that?
    • Yesterday I went to brunch with my gang — remember my gang? It was such a nice time, warm and friendly people, so many to talk to one-on-one (my favorite way to talk to people), and then the person sitting next to me paid for my meal. Unexpected, no arguing, sweet.
  • Yesterday I opened my door to go check my mail and tripped over a box. Hmmm, not expecting a box, but then again since I’ve had to buy everything, deliveries are not that unusual. I opened it and there was a book about nature in Austin, and a fold-out guide to area birds. I stood there for a few minutes frowning and scratching my head….gee, I didn’t remember ordering that, what? Finally I noticed the packing slip and saw that it was sent from a friend of mine in Connecticut. Out of the blue, an act of such sweet kindness. So I can further enjoy my little birds. Blew me away.

rbw

    • There is a giant red-bellied woodpecker that has made itself at home on my patio. It comes up, perches awkwardly on my bird feeder, and my sweet little finches fly away. (I always pull for awkward creatures, as one myself.) The poor woodpecker has such a hard time, its big body kind of hangs down and it has to reach up into the little ports to get some seeds. But it’s really great to see such a striking-looking bird so close. That’s some small potatoes happiness right there, my friends.
        • I got a bag of Meyer lemons! What’s your favorite thing to make with them? I’m torn between some lemon curd and lemon bars.
      • I bought 30 frames with white mats to hang some of my favorite photographs from my world travels. It’s been painful but wonderful going through the hundreds of pictures I have, selecting my favorite 30 pictures (so hard to narrow it down!). On the mat for each photograph, I wrote the place and year I was there:

pics

I still have 12 to put in frames — I’m doing 6 at a time, and as soon as I finish I’ll have to figure out the where and how to arrange them. I love looking at them.

And the days have been beautiful, upper 60s, blue skies, very nice — better for a wobbly person than gray dirty-cloud skies, for sure. I think the key to making it is finding the small potatoes and being really happy with them, don’t you?

Happy Sunday, and appreciate your own little spuds today, yeah?

good thing of the day: sleep! I’m back to sleeping, and it’s the most precious thing, never ever to be taken for granted. Seriously.

chasing happy

sweet littletufted titmouse!
sweet little
tufted titmouse!

Surely the little birds are nature’s gift to us, to make up for all the other stuff it gives us. Purple finches, chickadees, sparrows, goldfinches, nothing but joy. I’ve come to know their rhythms: first, one of the purple finches lands on a branch of my tree around 8am and starts singing to summon the others, I gather, because they start arriving soon after that. There are always just two of them on the feeder at the same time. Always. Late morning, a kind of a bully (a bully purple finch?!) arrives and will not allow any other bird to be on the feeder at the same time. Nosirree bob. He will chase the other one, and they’ll be running around and around and around the perch ring. It cracks me up. They’re generally gone by noon, but lately they’ve been coming back late afternoon, which I love. I have a really beautiful birdbath, sky blue, and on Friday two little birds had found it. They weren’t splashing around (it’s not really all that hot yet), but they were perched on the edge taking their tiny little sips of water. Sweet little birds. The finches nibble the seeds while perched on the birdfeeder, but the chickadees dash in, get a seed, and fly off to eat it. Adorable.

I spent the glorious day yesterday potting red geraniums, a lovely thick jasmine plant (and within an hour that thing was winding up the pole. SERIOUSLY.), some other kind of green thing in a brilliant cobalt blue pot. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was happy.

My son Will shared two Ze Frank videos with me, and I want to share them with you. The first one is an Invocation for Beginnings, and it made me cry. If you are (or need to be) beginning something, if you’ve ever given up on yourself or your pursuits, this one is for you. I promise. (Don’t be put off by his expression — the thumbnail just caught him in the wrong second, you know how that goes.)

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I love everything about it. I love that it’s an invocation. I love that it asks you to extend the same love and generosity to yourself that you extend to others. This is one I’ll save to watch over and over, when I need it.

The second one is called Chase That Happy, and it will make you happy, coincidentally. But it’s all about . . . well, that’s pretty obvious.

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I really hope you took the time to watch them — if you’re too busy now, come back and watch them, or watch whichever one you need. Will sent me this one when I posted something on facebook about planting flowers and being happy. That’s what you need to do, you need to chase that happy. Chase it. Catch it.

Happy Sunday y’all — I hope it’s a day you are happy too.

good thing of the day: Reverend Al Greene.

i have a dream

My dream is much smaller than Martin Luther King’s (because I am a much smaller person), but I do have a dream for myself, for my life. I know things have been moody and dark and heavy around the palace lately, and I’m grateful for you sticking with me. On occasion I think I’d better write something upbeat, and fast, or people will just get sick of me and unsubscribe! And I try to do that, but it’s not where I am right now so I just can’t do it. And anyway, what this blog means to me is a record of my authentic experience, so I just let that worry go and hope you’ll stick with me until the light returns to my heart. Because I know it will, I really do.

Here is my vision for next year, for myself, my heart, my life, and I am confident it will happen. I will feel happy again, my old joyous self will return. My little house will become more and more my home, my comfort, but I won’t stay in it all the time, as I do now. On Monday nights I’ll go to the weekly rehearsal of the Threshold Choir; one night a month my poetry group will convene in my living room; I’ll reconnect with my old friends here in Austin and make new ones; I’ll get out and listen to live music, Austin’s famous specialty; I’ll take little weekend roadtrips; happy music will fill my home, and the smell of delicious food will come from my kitchen. I’ll find a book club. I’ll get back to reading voraciously. I’ll play my guitar, and sing again. I’ll get back to my writing.

Friends will come over regularly. I’ll fully inhabit my home, and my life, and I won’t be so scared all the time. I’ll still cry — oh yes I will, and regularly, because it’s who I am — but it won’t always be the wrenching cry of a broken heart. Because my heart will heal, it always does and it will again.

I’ll see Katie and Trey because we want to, not just because I need their help (though we’ll always help each other, it’s what we do). I’ll be able to give help much more easily, because I’ll have myself back, my full set of resources, and that will make me happy too.

And what else next year brings? I don’t know, but I hope it has a lot of good things in store for me, after the brutal things 2012 brought. Perhaps my work will grow or change. Perhaps there will be a new pregnancy to celebrate. Perhaps all three of my children (and their husbands) will have great things happen for them next year, long-awaited and hoped-for good things. Perhaps my old friends will come visit, perhaps I’ll travel. There will be hard times, I know, but perhaps they won’t be at the scale of this year’s. Please.

I’ll know my home in all seasons, how the light falls, and I’ll know myself in all seasons too. Even though I feel like I am often changing and growing, there is a very steady core to who I’ve always been, and I’ll sit quietly in the core because I know who I am. 

Isn’t that the loveliest vision?

happy. just happy.

Yesterday I was happy all day long. It’s the first day I’ve been happy in nearly 7 weeks, since I got that terrible call from dear Katie, about our precious Grace. After seven weeks in the  terrible dark, a happy day is almost blinding.

It helps that I slept the night before — I haven’t been sleeping at all, though I’ve had a few nights of uneasy sleep, anxious sleep, scared sleep. But I slept from 11pm to 7:30am, a long luxurious sleep. Undoubtedly that set me on a good path for the day.

And then there was a cloudburst; nothing big, not big enough to register with the weather service, but big enough in my neighborhood to give me 20 minutes or so of pure pleasure. I sat with my French doors open, listening to the rain splashing on the dry crunchy leaves, breathing in that delicious smell of rain hitting dry dirt, and then listening to the rain dripping from the trees and the eaves of the house. The air smelled so sweet, that ozone smell that fills the air after a rain. I had a couple of phone calls with clients, a day filled with work, and it felt just fine to be me, in my new life.

Partly what helped was that Katie and I figured out how to arrange the couch in my living room, so even though it’s completely empty except for the couch, I can now “see” the rest of the pieces that will fill the space. I can now “see” it as the comfortable, cozy space it will be. I’m trying to organize a poetry group here, since it was one of my favorite experiences in New York, and so far 12 people have indicated interest so I’m looking at my imaginary living room and imagining it filled with people talking about poetry. Perhaps a meeting of a book club. People talking about things I love, in my own cozy home. Temma and I once talked about having a salon, and maybe I can do that here. I never could invite people into our apartment in New York, partly because my husband saw patients in our apartment and the arrangement of the rooms made evening company impossible. Also, and more importantly, I never felt like the place was mine, it certainly never looked like me, or felt like my own place, so I’m especially looking forward to having people in my new home. To good conversation, to an open bottle of wine, and to that specific kind of pleasure in my place.

Also, partly what helped was another day of not having to run around and do things, buy things; another day of just sitting with myself, another day without some big terrible thing happening. Man, I just need some more of those!

And my day ended so sweetly, with a nighttime walk in my neighborhood, which is lit up with Christmas lights:

Today will be another day like yesterday (though there might not be rain….) — but most importantly, a day spent with myself, in the quiet, just living my life. I cannot seem to get enough of those.

Thursday Katie and I plan to go out shopping for my living room, and I finally look forward to that. I’ll work on Saturday and/or Sunday, but one night of the weekend I want to go to south Austin to see the Zilker Christmas tree, which is 155 feet tall. The fun thing to do is stand underneath it and spin around while looking up, making yourself dizzy. The last time I went, they had hot chocolate and carolers, and I hope they still do.

 

So, much to look forward to. Plenty of work. The pleasure of good coffee in a quiet morning. A day of work, a day without tragedy. Something good for dinner, something I make for myself. And fun in the days to come. Home-making in the days to come. Conversations with friends, time to reflect and maybe even to read (I hope! I hope!). Time one of these days to start getting out and remembering my old friend Austin.

Thanks for holding me up, y’all — you can relax your grip a little now. I’m OK.