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.