What a wonderful time I had in Chicago — too short, as always, but filled with all kinds of wonder and happiness. Every morning I got up with Ilan so Marnie and Tom could get a little more sleep; he usually wakes up at 5:15am and is up for two hours and then goes down for a nap, so it was my pure pleasure to take that 2-hour segment of time with him.
I went to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s 32nd birthday (Friday, March 3) and Ilan’s first birthday (Wednesday, March 8), but I arrived mid-afternoon on March 3, and left mid-morning on March 8 so the celebrations were a bit more formless and leaked into the surrounding days. On Saturday March 4, Tom and Marnie spent the day out on a birthday ramble (their birthday specialty), so I had the whole day with Ilan, all to myself. I was playing music for us, my ‘iphone playlist’ which is just a random assortment of music I love, while Ilan ate his morning snack of goldfish crackers laid out around the perimeter of the coffee table, and this song came on. Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park, remember? From 1968?
As it does for most people, I guess, music jerks me around in time. And suddenly I just saw and felt all the layers of time going on in that moment with Ilan, generations of time, generations of moments and experience. I was simultaneously 9 years old, listening to this song and for some reason feeling how much I loved my dad, living in a terrible house of violence and the impending divorce of my parents; 19 years old, listening to Donna Summer’s great disco version of the song, living secretly in the office where I worked in Austin; in my late 20s, giving my own little kids a snack of goldfish crackers and watching them be my beamish little ones; and 58 years old, watching my littlest grandson do the same thing and being my daughter’s (and my) beamish little one. All those layers, all those moments, all those very similar experiences, all felt by me in that one light-filled moment. It made me cry, and it made me so grateful to be my very age, able to hold all that life and world together.
One of the hundreds of most-wonderful things about Ilan is how much he loves the Feist song, 1234. (I think Oliver loved it so much too — what is it about this song?)
Marnie got Ilan a small handheld bluetooth speaker of his own, and when she plays this song he just holds the speaker and stares at it with an extraordinary expression. He’ll glance up at her, and at me, and at whoever is in the room, with an expression I can’t exactly name but I know it completely.
Of course he’s one, and being one you put everything in your mouth at some point, but there were times he was holding the speaker and listening to a song, and he put it in his mouth and I thought he was really wanting the music to be inside him as much as anything else. I thought about this great story that Maurice Sendak told:
Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
I remain filled with all the wonder of my time in Chicago, the hours I got to spend with Ilan, the hours spent with Marnie, talking, and the evenings with Marnie and Tom over dinner. And I’m always grateful for those brief moments of seeing how time and life work together, and it’s all right there inside you all the time, waiting for something to break through so you can see it.
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This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,
My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.
My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.
The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.
Oblio and Arrow
A sweet farmer and his little calf
I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.
I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.
I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).
I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.
This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.
I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.
I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:
I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.
Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.
Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox
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“I love life very much indeed,” he says. Something about that specific articulation felt fresh to me, even though the sentiment is familiar and true for me, too. I think I usually say I love my life, or I’m grateful to be alive, truths for me no matter the weather, but to love LIFE very much seems different.
To love my life is to note the personal: my cozy little home, my people, my interests, my longings, my struggles, my thoughts and feelings, the range of my experiences. To be grateful to be alive is to recognize a greater context. There were times I might not have survived, how grateful I am that I did. It automatically places the thought in connection to not-alive.
But to love life very much is notice the miracle and wonder of existence. To love others’ lives. To love the existence of all living things, the wonder of that. To love the persistence of it all despite….despite….despite. To note and appreciate the sheer miracle of consciousness, of birth (despite… despite… despite….), of endurance. To hang on to wonder, to remember to see dandelions forcing their way through sidewalk cracks, clouds drifting in the blue, whales (blue or otherwise) singing through the oceans, friends helping each other along, people helping loved ones live and die, people rallying or disappointing, inspiring or scaring.
What a gift, right? Remember.
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I’ve been reading J. D. Vance’s excellent book Hillbilly Elegy, in part because it’s supposed to provide a window into the angry, poor white Trump voter. Another reason I wanted to read it is because I suspected it would feel very familiar to me, and it does. The immediate and easy violence; the shouting rage and broken doors, windows, dishes, faces; the threats of murder that aren’t always just a threat; the ‘with us or against us’ mindset — yeah, it’s all just so very familiar.
And coming squarely on the heels of my re-encounter with my past, and my fear, now, that things are going to explode in that old violence and some or all of my childhood family are going to get caught in it, I just feel so tired. (I seem to have a knack for reading exactly the wrong book at exactly the wrong time — A Little Life when I was suicidally depressed, and Hillbilly Elegy when I’m dealing with this stuff. Hmm.)
When I was first involved with Jerry, who I would later marry in 1979, he was once complaining about his junker of a car. It needed work, and it would still be a junker. Without even thinking about it I said, “I can get someone to steal it for you and set it on fire.” I didn’t look up because, you know, this is just how things are done! Perfectly ordinary, every day, the clear solution to his simple problem. I did look up when he remained silent, and I saw that he was pale, and his eyes were big and he was licking dry lips, swallowing hard. Huh? Why? What was wrong with him? Later he told me that my remarks had scared him — what if I got tired of him, what would I have done to him? (I didn’t tell him the answer that would’ve been obvious to me.)
But his response was an eye-opener for me. Huh. What’s that about — he seems to be horrified. And that began my re-education, at the age of 20. I remember being so bewildered, and having to ask him tentatively what would be a normal response to this thing or that, for a very long time. Years.
My long-lost family member who just contacted me has not been re-educated, and in fact he has more than 50 years of that life under his belt, all with this kind of framework and reinforced by years in prison. And I’m so tired. Because it feels like no matter how far I go, no matter how far away I run, no matter how much I change myself and my life, no matter how many years I put between us, this family I came from is going to win in some way. I’ve completely forgotten how to live watching over my shoulder, taking a big breath before leaving the house and dashing to the safety of the next place, watching parked cars with suspicion, scanning all perimeters and all people, and fearing that it won’t matter because it’ll come from the person or place I least expect it. I used to know how to live like that, to the point that it was just second nature. I forgot that, and I’ve forgotten how to tolerate the constant fear.
I also no longer live among people who understand any of this, so people respond to me with bewilderment, with a version of “buck up!” or with a side glance that says they believe I’m being overly dramatic, crazy paranoid. They don’t know, and so I feel all alone with it. I never lived in a hillbilly holler, but I did live among people who all knew the rules, as insane and unstable and explosive as they were, and that’s at least something. Now I live among straight people, and as I have always felt, I feel the outsider standing in a bleak world, looking in the windows of Technicolor rooms of calm, sane people doing ordinary things.
And it’s exhausting, it really is.
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W.O.W. I can only read the book in snips and sips, it’s pretty raw and powerful, and quite hard. She does a thing I’d give anything to do, in my own voice. I recommend the book, or anything else she has written.
In one of the lectures she talks about the central importance of our metaphors, and in finding the story underneath the story, and the one underneath that. She said that if you just tell the story you’ve always told, it will be dead, and she provided a really great exercise that I’m dying to try. But in her conversation about metaphor, she said she’d shared an early draft of Chronology of Water with a trusted reader and she asked for deep feedback. Among the feedback, the reader mentioned that Lidia’s central metaphor was water, which she simply had not realized . . . even though a huge part of the story is her early life as an athlete, a competitive swimmer, and her return to swimming, and her feelings of drowning, and on and on and on. Realizing her central metaphor was a crystallizing and powerful thing, not just for her book but for her understanding of herself, and her life.
She said everyone operates with a few metaphors, and she named a couple of others that echo through her stories and her life. I thought it was fascinating that she couldn’t see her own most central metaphor, but at the same time I totally get it. Fish don’t see the water!
I do have a sense of one big metaphor in my life (by which I mean a metaphor that I see in my recurring experiences — it’s my storytelling, not something that exists in a reified way in my life), but I wondered about others. And since sometimes other people can see you more clearly than you see yourself, I thought I’d ask. If you’ve been around the palace for a while, what would you say are my metaphors? I’ll welcome any thoughts you may have.
And if you’re interested in Lidia (an interest that will be so rewarding, you’ll see), here’s her TED talk about being a misfit:
To those who feel like they don't belong: there is beauty in being a misfit. Author Lidia Yuknavitch shares her own wayward journey in an intimate recollection of patchwork stories about loss, shame and the slow process of self-acceptance. "Even at the moment of your failure, you are beautiful," she says.
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I mean, the whole song is on the money. Life IS a piece of shit. Absolute shit happens to good people, to loved ones, and you can’t do a damn thing about it except show up. Unfair things happen and yet no one ever said any of this is fair. Tragedy befalls people, they lose everything, a simple step off a curb turns into the end of it all, a quick trip to the grocery store is the last trip ever made, he suddenly leaves her with no warning, or she suddenly leaves him. A little cough, or an ache in the side, turns out to be the big bad thing and you never saw it coming. A little kid is born into a family that will brutalize and then kill her. Another little kid is born in a refugee camp. Another little kid is trying to stay alive in some other dread setting . . . and the handful of people who own everything don’t give a shit — and in fact, blame those people if you can parse their bullshit language.
But the other part of the song is on the money too! There is a bright side. We show up for each other, again and again and again. We show up even though (maybe especially though) there isn’t anything we can do. There isn’t anything we can say. If you think about it, isn’t that what makes it remarkable? That despite our misery over being unable to fix things for people we love, we show up anyway. I just find that so overwhelming at times, I cry in wonder.
Something surprising and bad happens, and people call. People write and say, “I have this access, how can I help?” Or “I’ve had this experience, let me share what I learned.” Or “I know someone, let me hook you up with her.” Or a complete stranger writes, “Our mutual friend told me, let me help because the same thing happened to me.” Or “Let me have all the books on this topic shipped to you, what’s your address?” Or “I love you.”
I think THAT is the bright side. Sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it gets even darker, and then sometimes you only thought it was dark but it gets darker still. The bright side is that people are all around you, and some may have been in this dark place already, and most haven’t but they’ll go inside with you, so you don’t have to be there all by yourself.
Is anything really different? Isn’t the Big Bad Thing still there? It is.
Is anything really different? YES. You aren’t there alone.
Thank you to everyone who reads this for keeping me company. Sometimes you stand in the light with me, and sometimes you show up when it’s dark. Even if all you do is read my words, you are showing up with me. One thing I never quite get is that people comment on my honesty, my willingness to be vulnerable — and the reason I don’t get it is that I’m not doing anything that’s at all hard, or that requires courage, or that is in any way noteworthy to me because it’s just how I am, in the same way that I’m tall and have brown hair and blue eyes and a great big smile. So take this honesty as truth . . . ok, maybe just my truth but I don’t think so: Just showing up for someone is everything. Don’t be afraid to do that because “you don’t know what to say.” Sometimes there simply isn’t anything to say, and if there were don’t you think they’d have said it already? Show up anyway. Sometimes there isn’t anything to do, and sometimes what there is to do feels so insignificant that you feel embarrassed to offer. Show up anyway.Offer the insignificant help anyway. Show up for family, for friends, for acquaintances, for strangers. Show up willing not to have answers, not to fix things, but simply to be there.
Today is my son’s 29th birthday, and another time when he won’t respond to my birthday wishes. Last Sunday was another Mother’s Day I didn’t hear from him. Today marks another year of his absence from the life of our family. I grieve without the finality of grief — grateful for the fact that nothing is final! What there is to say has already been said to me (and by me, for that matter). I’m so sad, it’s hard to bear it but I will. The troubles that are befalling my friends and my loved ones are hard to accept, and my inability to make it all OK is hard to bear but I will. It’s what there is to do.
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What a trip that was, to China, although what’s strange is that my experience of it is shifting the longer I’m back. When we were there, I was so dazzled by so many things — the landscapes, the architecture, the places we stayed, the faces of the very old women — that it kind of kept my focus away from other things that were not so nice. The spitting, my God the spitting, which comes always with a giant hocking sound. What is it that makes a culture of people believe this kind of thing just must happen? That throats must be cleared like that, that there is a need for throats to be cleared? The impossibility of navigating the whole food situation, which left us far too often with completely ordinary, boring food. The suspicion and unfriendliness we felt from people we weren’t paying for service, and the downright hostility and even cruelty from young people.
And then the history, and for me especially the historical treatment of all women. That was very hard to deal with, although I’ve about had it up to HERE with women’s places in the world. On the flight back to Austin, a young couple sitting in the row in front of me had two very young children — a ~4-year-old boy, and a ~2-year-old girl. The mother only called her daughter “pretty girl.” That’s all. Never her name, never an endearment, only and constantly “pretty girl.” “Come here, pretty girl.” “Look out the window pretty girl, see the clouds?” Non. Stop. You can see how up-to-here I’ve had it when that made me this furious. We can’t afford that, women. We can’t afford that.
The two books I read start to finish on our vacation (Riding the Iron Rooster, by Paul Theroux, and The Woman Warrior [for the 8th time at least] by Maxine Hong Kingston) certainly didn’t help my attitude about China. Theroux provided historical specifics and details, based on research and on his conversations with Chinese people from all classes, and Kingston’s own first-person presentation of what it is to be a Chinese woman left me nauseated. The bigger problem was that they left me unable to read anything else, unsettled, scattered. That feeling may also be a consequence of the non-stop uprooting this year has brought me, of course, moving here to there to there to there, sleeping here for two weeks, there for two weeks, over there for a month, here for a night, there for two. I think that’s playing with my psyche too.
And so I tried to read a dozen different books, some I’ve read before and loved, some I’ve been dying to read (like the 5th Knausgaard, which I immediately bought when it was available), some I was already reading, and just could not. Just couldn’t. That’s always such a weird feeling. It’s happened to me twice — once after I finished Moby Dick for the first time and everything else just felt silly; and once when I was in the hospital trying not to die — and so I sought the remedy that worked then: Vonnegut. Vonnegut always reboots me for some reason, and if nothing else, I have been able to persist with Sirens of Titan, which was my dad’s very favorite book in the world. I have his copy of the book, so fragile now — a cheap trade paperback copy, broken spine and pages loose, kept in a ziplock bag — and it’s kind of heartbreaking to see the phrases that he highlighted. One of the most repeated phrases in the book seemed to be his mantra, because every single time it occurs, he highlighted it and starred it in the margin: “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” Maybe by the time I finish the book I’ll be able to read other things again. I sure hope so.
And so now, for a while, anyway, my life returns to its ordinary routine of coming and going. I get to be here at home, in Austin, for 16 days, a relief. Then it’s this:
May 6-17 in NYC, earlier than usual to coincide with Marc’s 66th birthday.
June 10-21 in NYC, then to Chicago until June 25 — I haven’t seen Ilan since he was born so that’ll be a treat, even though it’s a huge chunk of June away from home, and then 10 days later
This morning I realized that every time I am home in Austin, my primary feeling is a kind of urgent rush of catching up. Catching up with myself, with my own choices of how to live, daily yoga and walking and eating my happy food, catching up with my friends, catching up with my own breath. As if all the rest is an exception and here, now, I’m home. I suppose it would be helpful to me to find a way to see my whole life as myself and not so much of it an on-pause exception.
A ramble, which is about all my jetlagged mind can pull together. I have been thinking about a bunch of stuff I’ll need to write my way through, but I need a bit more steady sleep to be able to put those sentences together.
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On June 27, 2014, I started something new. What I really mean is that once again, I decided to do something new — even though it was the same old “new” thing I’d been trying to do my whole adult life: lose weight. I always accompanied that with the little thought and keep it off, but I never even put that into my decision as a real thing because I didn’t think it was possible. Because this has been my life-long M.O.:
Lose 50 pounds by starving myself
Several weeks later, “slip” and decide what the hell I’ve ruined it now.
Gain 50 pounds because I don’t know how to lose 5 or 10, but I sure know how to lose 50!
A couple of years (or more) later, repeat.
When I took yet another stab at it in the summer of 2014, I had a different mindset. I had a longer view; I was thinking about what I wanted my life to be in this next stage, so it was a whole-cloth, decades-long (hopefully!) view. I wanted to take excellent care of myself because I do want a decades-long stage, and I’m 57. I wanted to feel differently inside, and that was the umbrella over everything else. Strangely, I didn’t decide to start “on Monday,” or “at the beginning of the month,” I decided to start right at that moment, 4pm on a Wednesday, I think. I’d already been eating mostly vegetarian, by which I mean completely vegetarian when it’s my cooking, and doing the very best I can when others cook for me.
Because of who I am, I needed to monitor my “gains” (which means my losses), so I weighed every single morning. My day drifted into a rhythm: green smoothie for breakfast, nuts and fruit mid-day, an hour of yoga at 4, a beautiful dinner made for myself, an hour-long walk after dinner, and meditation before bed (and work in all those long spaces in between). I liked it! A lot! It was easy and it fit me. And the weight fell off, which surprised me.
But really, my biggest fear and concern came then, when I lost the weight. Losing weight, know how to do that, check. Keeping it off, complete mystery. And then my friend Megan said, “Decide you can do it! You can.” As silly as it may sound, that was transformative. Something shifted.
I’ve weighed myself every morning I could ever since, and that slight monitoring feels important. The coolest thing is that there were times I gained weight! During my month in Chicago, I gained 10 pounds; no surprise, given the kind of cooking and baking I was doing, and IPAs I drank. But the big surprise is that I shrugged, meh, who cares — because I enjoyed my time eating with the kids, and it felt like comfort and care. And I knew that I’d just get it off and get back to myself. When we travel to Southeast Asia, I want to enjoy the foods we eat and not be worrying, so when we return I always have a few pounds to lose so I can get back to myself.
Get back to myself. It’s just become “myself” now. There are times I can’t do yoga for a variety of reasons and I really miss it, so when I can do it again, it’s a sigh of return. Aah, back to myself. The weight slips away and I feel myself again. It’s a version of myself that never existed, a dreamed-of, elusive version, and now it’s just ME. And the best part is that I feel present in my life in a way I didn’t before, which brings the stillness I wanted.
How? Why? Truly, I think these are elements:
I started immediately instead of waiting, even for the next day. Kinda caught me off guard! Oh, I’m already in it! One thing about that, I think, is that I’d already “blown” the early part of the day, surely, eating more or differently, which helped me think about those experiences differently.
My perspective — the rest of my life was the whole point, instead of right now.
A whole-life approach instead of just diet and exercise. And in fact, not even approaching it as “diet and exercise” but instead mindful eating that made me happy, and moving my body in ways that feel so good. I wanted to be calmer inside. Still inside. I saw all the changes I made as contributing to that goal, because that was my real, centering goal.
Daily monitoring. For me, I really believe that’s important. It doesn’t come with inner nastiness, or critique at all! And my weight fluctuates, too — not just the big fluctuation of Chicago, or the semi-big fluctuations of vacation (which are usually 5 pounds), but up 2 down 1, etc. It just gives me a general awareness. I also have a number in mind that is my outer limit of gain, and if I hit that, I am just a little more careful with my dinners until I drop below it. More vegetables.
I love the way you can keep surprising yourself, even at 57. Once in a while I realize, with deep surprise, that I’m wearing the same size I’ve been wearing for more than a year. I don’t care what that size is, although I’m happy with it, but I do like that it’s the same size. And the stillness inside me, the way I more easily address the world and myself — not always, but more often and more easily — surprises me too. I am able to be present much more often, now. All that also feels like me now.
Today I’m flying to NYC and then we’ll be off to China at the end of the week. I hope it’s a good Tuesday in your life! xoxoxoxoxoxo
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Gosh, I don’t even quite know where I am. I slept in my own bed last night for the first time in five weeks. I made coffee in my own kitchen, with my own gear, this morning. I took a shower this morning. I had to try to remember how to do all those things here. I have only one very very busy week here that includes time babysitting my darling Oliver, helping prepare for his 2nd birthday party, and then attending the party and spending the whole day with my little Katie family . . . and then to New York for three days before we go on to China for 15 days. WHERE AM I TODAY?
I was in Chicago for four weeks, and we imagined that the bulk of that time would be helping after the baby was born but it didn’t work that way. Two weeks of waiting with Marnie and Tom, long days talking and watching old Top Chefs and Marnie and I lying in bed together to stay warm, talking and killing time and snoozing. Even though that’s not how I’d have most preferred to arrange the time, since it meant Tom and I both left the same day (he had two weeks of leave accumulated), it will always be so special that I got to spend that time with her, waiting for her son to be born. I’ll never forget it.
The easiest thing is just to do a photo post. If you’re my Facebook friend you’ve seen some of these, and you know the gist, but here goes:
I’d spent some hours in the waiting room — a large, nice enough room filled with grandparents-to-be. The hospital was top-notch, part of the Northwestern system, and the other grandparents were professional people with lots of education (it just came up among them). I sat in a corner, writing on my laptop and listening. One set of grandparents had been waiting 25 hours by the time I arrived, so they’d heard stories through the night. Grandparents reappeared in the room to announce that they’d seen their grandchild and everyone cheered. The room was filled with quiet conversations AND THEN a woman burst into the room complaining loudly:
“Oh sure, he lives right here in town and he’s retired already but I get here first? That’s typical. That’s why I divorced him 40 years ago.”
Our eyes got wide and we were all drawn into conversation with her. How she only had to push a couple of times with all 6 of her kids, her labor took just a couple of hours each time so this grandkid would probably be born fast too, but he probably wouldn’t make it, typical him.
The conversation came around to grandparent names, and most were typical: Grandma, Nonna, Nonny, Gramma Carol, Pete (me!), and then it was her turn: Grandma The Diedelhoff. Grandma The Diedelhoff. We all burst out laughing. It fit her so much. Her ex-husband finally showed up, reeking of Old Spice to the point that I had to leave the room before it gave me a migraine. I’d have divorced him for that Old Spice alone.
To get them home a couple of days later, I rented a car and brought the car seat to the hospital, and it was harrowing driving them home — I remember feeling that same way when I was driving my own babies home. New human being in the car! Be careful everyone, be careful! Drive safely!
The next two weeks were pretty routine. I took a couple of middle-of-the-night shifts but the kids mostly wanted to do them themselves, so for the most part I’d take Ilan at 7 and they would get 2 or 3 more hours of sleep. Those hours were extraordinary; Ilan was always in such a good mood then, quiet and watching, and for the most part I just held him. I held Ilan, tried to help the kids when I knew a helpful way to do something with a crying baby (amazing how it comes back, bodily, even if I couldn’t have said it if asked), and cooked. I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked. We had yeasted waffles and cinnamon rolls twice and lots of big dinners (and their friend Paul fed us four times, big feasts each time). I was there for Paul’s birthday so I made him a fabulous birthday cake.
I hated leaving, since Marnie was still recovering and in pain (and they live in a two-story home), but my time had run out. My last night, Marnie and Ilan slept in my room with me so I could help one last time and Tom could get an uninterrupted night of sleep before his first day back at work. It was so damn sweet I can hardly write about it without crying. Marnie would nurse Ilan and then I’d take him. He and I went to the nursery and I rocked him, and for a very long time I lay in bed with him snuggled next to me, watching him sleep. My arm was wrapped around him and I could hear his little quick breathing, and smell his little head, and I could feel my daughter on the other side of the bed, hear her exhausted snoring, and it was just one more experience that I’ll never ever forget.
When I got home yesterday, I got to see my dear friend Nancy for a couple of hours — lucky, since she’s gone now for a few days to see old friends in Kansas — and then I met Katie, Trey and darling Oliver for dinner at Chuy’s, a place that has a very very special place in my heart. Oliver looked huge! After holding tiny little newborn Ilan, and putting those tiny newborn diapers on him, Oliver looked like a teenager. 🙂 They got to the restaurant before me, and when I walked in and he saw me, he wiggled and grinned so big it melted my heart. I can’t believe he’s about to turn two, how fast that time has gone.
I didn’t get any reading done, to speak of, but I did finish the Ursula K. LeGuin book I was reading for my year-long project so I hope to write that post very soon. I missed the idea of writing on my blog, but it was such a blur of waiting and quiet and crying and cooking, the idea of it was about all I could muster. I gained ten pounds while I was gone and I didn’t regularly do yoga, and the only walking I did was back and forth to the grocery store, so I’m thrilled to return to my routine while I can, before we head off to China.
For now, I just have to remember which set of keys I need. xoxoxoxoxo
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As always, I begin with the relevant excerpt from the Brain Pickings post:
“In a chapter titled ‘Boredom and Excitement,’ Russell teases apart the paradoxical question of why, given how central it is to our wholeness, we dread boredom as much as we do. Long before our present anxieties about how the age of distraction and productivity is thwarting our capacity for presence, he writes:
We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.
As we rise in the social scale the pursuit of excitement becomes more and more intense.
Many decades before our present concerns about screen time, he urges parents to allow children the freedom to experience “fruitful monotony,” which invites inventiveness and imaginative play — in other words, the great childhood joy and developmental achievement of learning to “do nothing with nobody all alone by yourself.” He writes:
The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness… A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.
I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony… A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.
The more I engage in this project, the more curious I become about Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings — and not just because of the 16 choices she made, but also of how she chose to summarize each one. “Make room for fruitful monotony” is taken directly from Russell’s words; the central comparison he thinks about is this:
Boredom, however, is not to be regarded as wholly evil. There are two sorts, of which one is fructifying, while the other is stultifying. The fructifying kind arises from the absence of drugs, and the stultifying kind from the absence of vital activities.
So he’s saying to make room for the kind of boredom that comes when you don’t take drugs? My understanding, after reading the whole chapter (included at the bottom of this post if you want to read it — and it’s often quite funny!), is that his real concern is the stultifying kind of boredom. In this chapter, Russell thinks through the importance of not filling every moment with passive entertainment. If you spend too much of your time in that kind of stultifying boredom, you lose something essential. He thinks it’s especially important for children, and I agree.
But no matter how old we are, don’t we all talk about wanting to put down our phones, get offline, turn off the television? I think he would be appalled by the way we’re now so completely tethered to our electronic devices, and I doubt too many of us would disagree. Setting aside the way we are left disconnected from other human beings, and setting aside the health effects of all the sitting and absorbing passive entertainment, his concern is that it leads to unhappiness. And I think it does too — he’s right, even if it’s sometimes hard to step away from the electronic world. In the chapter he says that we are so afraid of boredom that we pursue excitement relentlessly, and that “certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony.” Poetry, art, creation, insight, we distract ourselves away from the quiet monotony that gives rise to these possibilities. Russell sees this outcome:
“…a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”
YES. Little men. He makes a frequent connection to the earth, to nature, as a source of experiences that energize and create happiness, and again I think he’s right. It’s kind of like we’re setting ourselves up to become smaller and smaller and smaller: we stare at screens inside our homes, absorbing ‘entertainment’ created by other people, and often uncritically. We become mole people. For myself, when I’ve done that too long — easy to do, since my work is on the computer and I work most waking minutes — I end up feeling hollow and soul-empty. Time whizzes past and it’s gone and I don’t even remember how I spent it. In the very rare time I have a break from work and just have a day to spend however I wish, I get so much more bang for my buck by being in silence and away from electronics. The hours are so slow and thick, and my pleasure in spending them is palpable. I end the day with a very deep satisfaction and happiness, always.
You know how when you’re thinking about something, you start seeing it in a variety of places? I’m reading Per Petterson’s stunning Out Stealing Horses and came across this passage. His elderly protagonist, Trond, had just moved to an isolated cabin in the wilderness:
“I did not bring a television set out here with me, and I regret it sometimes when the evenings get long, but my idea was that living alone you can soon get stuck to those flickering images and to the chair you will sit on far into the night, and then time merely passes as you let others do the moving. I do not want that. I will keep myself company.”
(I’m sure I’ll write about this book, it’s so beautiful and a meditation on the past and trauma.) Anyway, I have more things I want to do than time to do them (c’mon lottery!!), but I do slip into a rut of electronic background distraction now and then. It happens much less often since I undertook my anti-flailing project 18 months ago and accidentally started doing only one thing at a time, but I can still slip into the multitasking habit if I’m not paying attention and what pulls me out of it is the awareness of feeling bad — ah! No wonder!
How often are you at home without the television going? Without music playing? With your phone and computer put away? How often are you in silence? NEVER? Is that how often? I wonder what would happen if you did that for one hour. Does the idea make you nervous? I suspect it makes many people nervous, and for a similar reason that meditation makes people nervous — having to come face to face with yourself in a sustained way, OY.
To me, this one feels like a real resolution, like a deepening understanding of something I’ve been working with already. So to date, my understanding of the five ‘resolutions’ I’ve been thinking about is:
Take the 20,000-foot perspective. Take God’s view. Take the view from the end of it all, looking back. Look at all the things we are trying so hard to do, the things we are worrying ourselves sick about, the various dramas playing out in friends’ and loved ones’ lives (or our own), the things we clutch to ourselves so desperately, the ways we make things so hard for ourselves, and we’re just here for such a tiny, short time. Our lives are a quick flash of light in an enormous, perhaps never-ending universe of galaxies and solar systems and black holes and dark matter and columns of gas, and surely we’re not the only ones but we’re the only ones we know and it all seems like the whole thing, so big, so tremendous, so important. And it is, of course, because it’s our whole everything.
Yesterday my dear, dear friend Nancy wrote me, out of the blue, about my name. Lori Dawn. She thought Lori was a name given to a sweet girl, a good girl, and Dawn surely signified a hope for a promising future, and my parents gave me those names, even in their tragic and devastating whorls of misery. “Maybe it’s possible that even damaged people can love even if it isn’t as much as it should be,” she wrote me. And of course we’re all damaged people, to some degree, and we love, even if it isn’t as much as it should be. My mother chose my first name, bowing to pressure from her mother named Lorene — she convinced her that Lori was short for Lorene, and thank you for that Mother. My father chose my middle name, and I have always seen that choice as a part of his sentimental, romantic nature. He was just a kid, 19, heart-wounded but not impossibly ruined yet. I think my name did represent that for him, exactly: a hope for a promising future. A child of his own.
I do think my poor old dad loved me as much as he possibly could. And I think it was a lot. He was so desperate to be loved, and I imagine he imagined that finally there would be someone who loved him when I was born. Finally. Someone would love him. Dawn.
THAT makes me cry, and makes his suicide letter even more painful. He said he just couldn’t take me abandoning him one more time, he couldn’t bear it. And the next sentence was vicious. His story, as violent and explosive and terrible as it was, holds a whole lot of poignancy and for me, sorrow for him.
For decades his suicide letter blaming me felt like a gravestone weighing me down, an impossible burden of blame. But in his relentlessly drunken mind, in his rage and despair, it was really about losing that hope of someone finally loving him enough. My poor dad, his life a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. A very, very brief life, only 43 years, a spark initiated in this world with all the great potential we arrive with, and then a terrible, sad, hard life with one person after another who sought his destruction — including him. I did love him, with all the heart of a little girl no matter what he did, and it’s unfair to say that I abandoned him but I can think about his small, brutal life and see what he saw.
People get through this life with whatever kind of coping skills they have; some people can’t do it and drink or take drugs and some people turn into monsters and some people become small and afraid and some people become bitter and some people have peopled their lives and so they put sparkle and some happiness into the world, and everyone is trying so hard with whatever they have to deal with and whatever tools they have to use.
And sometimes that hard road gets turned into something else — sometimes something beautiful and extraordinary, sometimes something moving and redemptive to the person and to others, and sometimes into something raucous and distracting and glorious. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats have this amazing song called “Son of a Bitch,” and if you just focus on the lyrics it’s about a horror — detox, bugs crawling all over me, if I can’t get clean I’m gonna drink my life away. Having known my fair share of hard-core alcoholics, there is not one thing raucous and distracting and glorious about that. Not one damn thing. But Rateliff turned that experience into this amazing song:
Because it’s all just about getting through, you know? We get through terrible things — addiction, loneliness, cancer, chronic illness, loss, emotional illness, incredible grief — and we just keep going, don’t we? We do terrible things, on purpose sometimes and not at all on purpose other times. We make mistakes, big and small. We flail. We hurt each other. We try so hard. We transform our darkness, if we are lucky, into something beautiful, or something meaningful, or something that lifts people out of their seats, or something that helps a little girl hiding under a bed just keep going one more day.
The whole human arc is just about the most poignant thing in the whole world. Every single person you encounter is situated in their grand story, and every story has loss and struggle and impossibility and glory, and there is that person you know, doing his or her best, hoping it’ll be OK, hoping not to fuck up today, hoping today is different, hoping tomorrow will get here. Every single person, even that one. Hoping the new baby comes and it’s all OK. Hoping the treatment works. Hoping the job holds, or a new job comes. Despair at 2am, sleepless hours staring at the ceiling worrying about money. Hoping the prodigal son comes home. Looking forward to what’s on the schedule tomorrow, this week, next month, so bravely and maybe blindly just expecting that it will all happen. And usually it does, and we sparkle and flash and connect and feel joy and love and connection and we feel seen and known and so we feel anchored in our stories, in our lives.
Just for today — really, just for today — try hard to remember this when you look at the people you encounter. Even if you know them very well, there are hidden parts you don’t know about, worries and secrets behind brave fronts they’re putting on . . . for you, maybe. Just for today, see if you can take that perspective, or maybe just for an hour. They’re doing the very best they can. I am doing the very best I can. Sometimes it’s not enough, sometimes it’s crappy, sometimes it’s all fucked up, but sometimes it’s glorious.
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Dear Morpheus, god of dreams, why have you abandoned me? Hypnos, god of sleep, where’d you go, buddy?
I know the answer, of course. I’ve been going off Seroquel, a powerful antipsychotic that helps treatment-resistant depression (at least it does for me), so I’m grateful for it and it helped save me during this last period of suicidality, but dang. If ever there were a group of people who really did not need to go without sleep for an extended period, it would be the recently severely depressed. One side-effect of Seroquel is that it makes you sleep. That alone is useful for helping depression, but it’s just a side-effect. So the withdrawal has implications for sleep, too. I’ve titrated down slowly, one tab to a half, ten days later a quarter, ten days later off. It’s a very small tablet that isn’t scored, so cutting it in half was hard enough. Cutting quarters reduced it to dust, basically. There’s no way I could go eighth-sies.
The last time I took it, back in 2008, I was hospitalized and ended up taking it for two years. My situation was not nearly as dire this time, so I took it three months and feel stable and not-at-all depressed. It took weeks to come off it in 2008, so my real hope is that this won’t take more than a week.
But I have not slept for three nights. Yesterday around 6pm I apparently fell asleep in my chair for half an hour, mid-working, and rushed to bed in the hopes that it would continue, but that was it. This is Saturday, and the last time I slept was Tuesday night, and then I only slept two or three hours. It’s awful.
Night 1: hahaha! Omelettes, why not!
Night 2: dragging. What to do.
Night 3. Getting really worn down.
I’m starting to cry too easily — and you know, I do that anyway, so this is a relative statement. Even for me,I am crying too easily. My friend Liz texted me at 2:30a about some Daniel Tiger songs that mean something to her because she knows I love Mister Rogers. I sobbed. My friend George texted me at 3:30am with some deeply kind words of friendship and I bawled. My friend Laura, in Perth, commented on Facebook that she’d thought about calling me but thought perhaps I just might be asleep, and I buried my face in the pillow and cried. (Nope, not asleep.) (She’s the friend who called me after Gracie died, an act of love from someone I barely knew [then] that I will remember in my last days.)
So finally I got up and made half a batch of some vanilla cinnamon buttermilk pancakes and in a kind of frantic state, needing comfort, proceeded to eat them all. With real maple syrup. So now I feel kind of icky and sugar-zingy and my tummy is way too full. I went outside on my lovely little patio and just sat in the silent night, trying just to be.
It’s a beautiful soft, quiet night. Warm, 70 degrees at 4:30a. Lightly humid; a front is heading our way and we’re expecting rain this weekend, so the air held that promise.
Though I could easily make an opposing argument — when sick, or unable to sleep, wouldn’t you want someone nearby? — but it has been nice being awake in the middle of the night, through the night, and all alone. The quiet has been beautiful. The hours have been beautiful. (This is not hysteria born of sleeplessness. 😉 ) The space that’s just mine has been beautiful. The time to be with myself, to think, to read, has been beautiful. Maybe since I don’t need anything during this insomnia the solitude has been wonderful; last fall I caught a terrible flu during my Austin time and wished terribly to have Marc nearby, taking care and helping me and feeding me and comforting me. But this is different, and I’ve felt the silence and hours as a gift, even if the gift is wearing thin.
There were two things I found entirely unimaginable in my younger years, and I thought people who said them were lying (I really did): 1) I don’t care what people think of me, and 2) I enjoy time to myself. Those sentences just didn’t make any sense. I truly could not imagine how one could not care what others thought of them. No way. And time to myself was kind of terrifying; maybe I’d had too much of it in the years I didn’t have a home, I don’t know. My first husband needed time alone, and I could only understand that as “not with you,” unfortunately. So he would go outside and I’d linger nearby. Or he’d work in the garage on a project and I’d sit on the steps. “I won’t say anything, I promise!” I’d say, clearly missing the point.
But now I really don’t care what people think of me. Don’t care what they think of what I’m wearing, how I do my hair, why I’m at the movies or restaurant all alone, how I’m living my life, what I like and don’t like. I hope people like me, or at least feel neutrally toward me, but it’s not my business or concern. It’s the strangest thing.
And now I relish the periods I’m in Austin living all alone. I love it so much. When I moved here, I’d never lived alone since I was 18. I didn’t know how to do it, and I felt scared and lonely. I worked hard to figure out how to do it, how to take up my space, how to claim it and be in it as my own. It has come in so handy during this period of sleeplessness — I finally give up and get out of bed, turn on the lights, light the fire and turn on the Christmas tree, play some music, and cook something yummy for myself. Set the table, placemat, napkin. I can’t tell you how much pleasure it all gives me, the solitude and the taking care of myself.
Life is absolutely magical in its way, in its length and passage. You start one way and end another. The unimaginable becomes desirable. You just have to live long enough, have enough experiences and be open to them and to what they do to you, and pay attention.
Pay attention. Lessons all around. xoxox
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A few years ago I read a book called Everything Matters!, partly because of the title and partly because of reviews. I can’t even remember what it was about now; I mainly just remember that I liked it well enough, I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted, but it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. I was just going through the kindle app on my phone and saw that book and it just punched me — the title, that is.
Because it all matters. The boredom, the small joys and miseries, the big joys and miseries, the people — every single one — the errands and bullshit, the uncertainties and plans, the tedium. It all matters. Every single bit of it. Every stitch made, every cucumber sliced. Every subway ride. Every walk through the parking lot, every bit of insomnia and sleep. Recently on the subway, some college kid was telling his friend about “a theory [his] dad just made up, but said it changed the way he looked at his life,” which was apparently that 95% of our lives are spent on bullshit, trivial stuff, sleep, but that 5%, you have to recognize it when it comes because it matters. Who knows what the kid’s dad really said; college kids don’t typically listen closely enough to their parents to be reliable re-tellers, but I have to disagree. And even taking this at face value, if your position is that 95% of your life doesn’t matter at all, you’re cheating yourself.
This reminds me of the old thing parents used to say, back when I knew the things parents always said, which was “it’s about quality time, not quantity time.” I always thought they said that to justify their own absences. In fact, amazing things happen when you’re just there, showing up. When my kids were little, the times I tried to set up a specific thing, thinking it was going to be the special thing, the time that mattered, it rarely worked that way. Instead it was just putting in time with them, just sitting around, just playing cards, just talking while we made cookies, that were the ground for the important moments. The times they relaxed and felt comfortable enough to reveal themselves, because it wasn’t imperative that we be having Quality! Time!
It’s easy to know when the good stuff happens that it matters. Time with Oliver and Katie, like I’m going to have later this morning, that MATTERS. My weekly conversation with Marnie, that MATTERS. Time spent with others I love, Marc and my family of dear, dear friends, all that matters. Seeing the world, spending my time that way? Matters. All that’s pretty obvious.
Less obvious is the tedium — all of which matters! Cleaning the house, working (if you don’t love your work, if it isn’t your passion), standing in line, sitting in traffic, buying groceries — all that matters. Cleaning the house, tedious; or, cleaning the house, tending to your home to make it comfortable, and welcoming to yourself and others. Working? Well, my work is sometimes reading crap manuscripts that make me want to poke my eyes out. OR it’s that someone has trusted me with their dream, the dream they’ve spent months or years on, and they took a deep breath and trusted me to read it for them and try to help them make it better. Standing in line, sitting in traffic, gifts of time off the clock for me! I get to read, guilt-free, when I’m standing in line. I get to listen to podcasts, something I never get to do, when I’m sitting in traffic. Buying groceries, a sensory, luxurious GIFT. All you have to do to transform that moment is see what is available to you, really see it. How many people would be dazzled out of their minds by all that beautiful, fresh food displayed in front of them? How many would give anything to have access to the kind of food you take for granted. Since I love all the fruits and vegetables, it’s easy enough to transform a tedious trip by just stopping my hurry and looking. Look around at the whole department, all that color, the beautiful large piles of each kind of food. And all there for me. And then I get to turn it into something luscious to eat, and maybe to share with friends.
And less obvious still, the heartbreaking or terrifying trouble matters. It’s easy to say funny things like, “Plot twist!” when they aren’t actually happening. When they are actually happening, it can be really hard to see them as anything but what they are presenting. Death, loss, tragedy. Fear. Anxiety and uncertainty. World-changing [your world] and sometimes world-changing [the whole world]. Oh how these matter! You’re not going to be the same afterwards, and it’s up to you how that goes. Are you going to use that to deepen yourself in some way? Or are you going to be crumbled by it? Either way, it sure matters.
People in your life, every single one matters. The ones you love, that’s pretty obvious. The ones that annoy you, the ones that you just don’t like, the ones you’re forced to be with whether you like it or not (toxic co-workers come to mind, my agony at OUP in NYC), they sure matter. Each one of the less-ideal people teaches you something, even if the lesson is how to manage yourself so you don’t have a stroke. One of the toxic women I worked with had a lot of lessons to teach me, if only I’d been ready to learn. By treating me with such cruelty and contempt, and by seeing me as an idiot because I was happy and smiling, she gave me daily chances to learn how to hold my own (I didn’t take those chances, I crumbled). She gave me a chance to look at myself: I’m being seen as an idiot because I am happy and smiling, perhaps this is a NY thing (it kind of is), so should I modulate myself in some way to succeed here, or is it a chance to deepen my understanding of myself in some way? And then when that hideous monster of a woman was suing me, I tried so hard every day to practice the lovingkindness meditation on her. I really did. Some days I tried for my sake, believing that if she just weren’t such a miserable monster she might not be that way in the world; and some days I tried to do it for her sake, because she is such a miserable monster and that’s awful. I was never able to do it very well. My best efforts came when I was holding a selfish perspective, but the moment I’d stop the meditation I went right back to freaking out about her, and hating her with a burning passion. That sure didn’t help me.
This day of your life — absolutely whatever you are doing today — matters. It’s YOUR WHOLE LIFE today. It’s the life you get to spend today. You don’t get to spend yesterday, you already did that. You don’t get to spend tomorrow, not yet and maybe not ever. Whatever you are doing today, IT MATTERS. Every single bit of it. Walking to your car, driving. Eating junk. Doing boring work. Doing good work! Whatever. It can be clear that it matters if you bring your attention to it, recognize it for what it is. In fact, once in a while when I do that my breath is taken away. It matters so, so much. This minute matters so, so much. My fingers on the keyboard in this minute, my cup of hot coffee nearby, music in the background. This minute of my life, it is so precious I can hardly bear it.
And then I’ll drive north to see Oliver and Katie, to spend some time at a splash pad with them in the late summer sun. I have work I need to do, but Oliver won’t be this little boy forever, and sunny summer days won’t always be here, and this precious opportunity presents itself and I want to say yes.
Yes. Say yes today. xoxoxoxo
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When I was a little girl, I had a younger cousin who liked to stick bobby pins in the electrical outlets, and when sparks came out she’d laugh in absolute delight and say, “Lester Tricky! Lester Tricky!” Some adult would come running and tell her that electricity was dangerous and she shouldn’t do that, but you could see in her eyes that she would never listen.
I’ll come back to Lester Tricky in a minute, but first some context. My life is extraordinary right now. Just utterly extraordinary. Yesterday was Katie’s birthday and I got to spend some hours with them, and some time all alone with little Oliver, who isn’t feeling very well right now. Molars, I think. When I went home afterwards, I made a yummy dinner, and then feeling too extraordinary to sit still, I went to a pie shop with my new book of poetry and relished that warm chocolate salted caramel slice. I came home, still feeling too extraordinary (but also too full of pie), so I laced on my sneakers and headed out for a steamy walk — the only kind you can take in Texas this time of year.
Marnie had introduced me to a wonderful podcast called Song Exploder (I strongly recommend it to you!); song writers focus on one of their compositions and talk about the creation of it in fascinating detail. I selected a band I’d never heard of (Sylvan Esso) talking about their song “Coffee.” (Here’s a link to the specific episode, recommended!) The episode grabbed me from the beginning, and so I was hooked and lost in the conversation.
It was that violet kind of twilight, and the cicadas were buzzing in the air non-stop. I walked past one family of deer, and then another, and then two little fawns that seemed to be on their own. The twilight deepened a little more, and the cicadas grew louder. As the conversation drew to a close on the podcast, the episode ended with the entire song played. And as I listened, I felt the top of my scalp, like electricity was dancing in my hair. It moved down my cheeks, down my neck — still alive in my hair — and down my arms. I saw goose bumps come up on my arms, and it kept moving down my body, down my legs — goose bumps there too — and into my feet. I looked up and there was a brilliant half moon right overhead. I looked to my left and there was a large male deer standing there looking at me.
It was extraordinary. It felt like everything else around me was on pause, there was no traffic on the busy street nearby, the cicadas seemed to stop, the breeze went on pause. I blinked slowly, swallowed, looked up at the moon, down at my arms, and closed my eyes. I just stood there in that moment, lit up with electricity. I remembered Lisa, and Lester Tricky. I felt the whole of my life, everything behind me and everything stretching out in front of me, my family continuing on into the future, me as an ancestor of all these people who streamed into the world through me. I don’t know how long I stood there on the sidewalk with my eyes closed. I think when the song ended, the spell was broken. I opened my eyes, the breeze seemed to pick up again. I heard the traffic nearby. I took a deep breath and looked up at the moon in the darkening sky.
I can’t guarantee that the song will have the same effect on you (but I do recommend that you start by listening to the podcast about it, linked above; it’s only 13 minutes long). Just in case, here is the official video of it. I love the female singer’s voice, and the eerie moodiness of the song, and now forever it’s stained purple for me.
Hi there, everyone! Remember me? I’ve been away — on vacation in Norway of course, but also just away from regular writing. I thought I’d pop in today with some small bits to share.
It’s been more than a year, now, since I began the anti-flailing project and no one is more surprised than I am by its success. And I think people who know me are surprised, because it circles around issues I have launched myself at so many times over the years, each effort lasting through an initial burst of working, and then fizzling and leaving me only slightly ahead of where I had been when I started. More than a year later I am still doing one thing at a time. Still eating well (except for when I’m in NYC, where I just do the best I can). Still doing yoga every single day, and meditating at the end of the day. Still doing much more walking than ever before. Still feeling still and quiet inside. Still living so much more in the present (thanks greatly to my bubble insight), even though I think that has contributed to the great decline in my writing here. All these shifts have also led to their self-perpetuation in an interesting way, because when for any reason I skip some of them — like doing yoga when I was in Norway, or like eating a bag of peanut M&Ms with Marc while watching the midnight sun — it’s not even an effort to return to myself anymore. It was, at first; at first I would have to summon myself, think about just starting again, but now I just start again. That’s all amazing to me. And even more amazing, all the weight I lost (35 pounds, unbelievably) have stayed off. I go up and down by a couple of pounds, but wow.
Surprising to me, I am getting better at drawing! What I mean by that is that it’s more a pleasure in the doing of it now, because I am getting closer to being able to approximate what I see. I’m less mortified by what I draw, and more often kind of happy with it. Getting better means I’m looser and starting to play more, and that was one of the main reasons I wanted to do it. I never thought I would get to any of these places with drawing. So in the process, I have also learned a little more persistence about starting new things. You can never get better if you don’t practice, and no one starts off as an expert.
Living with the estrangement of my son is like living with a raging infection that is agonizing but not fatal. Sometimes it’s worse than others, sometimes it’s just there in the background of everything, and right now it’s kind of raging. It tenderizes me, makes me even more easily and readily touched by the world. Two nights ago I was scrolling through our old text messages to each other and came across this exchange from very early in 2013. It shows his hilarious sense of humor:
I’m sitting in a cafe trying to figure out what I’m doing with my life.
What’re you thinking about?
Aquaponics. Feed fish, fish waste feeds plants, farm caviar and harvest plants.
Well that’s a different idea than usual!
They’re farming sturgeon in Spain, I’m sure it could be done here. Anywho, pipe dream for now. Anytime I think of something to do, the process of me getting myself there looks like this: 1) Collect underpants. 2) ??? 3) Profit!
He always cracked me up, and I miss him so much it ebbs and then swells into unbearable. So I’m in that right now and having to keep drinking water all day to stay hydrated from all the crying. It’s tough.
I’ve been reading a lot, as always — Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh; Knausgaard’s fourth memoir in the series; On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks; and A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout. (Links all go to my GoodReads review of each title.) It was amazing finishing the fourth Knausgaard in northern Norway, since it was set in that almost-exact location, and I finished it with regret that book 5 is not yet translated, and book 6 will be translated and available a year after book 5. I have a greater appreciation of the vast project of his books, and my awe has settled into place. The brain surgery book was fascinating, both in terms of the brain stuff and in terms of getting into the arrogant head of a brain surgeon. I see that all four of the books are memoir, which I hadn’t actually noticed until now. I recommend Oliver Sacks’s book, and the last one by Amanda Lindhout is really only for the stouthearted, as it goes into pretty horrifying detail about her captivity in Somalia and the things that were done to her. But it also presents one of the most accurate and vivid descriptions of dissociation I’ve ever read.
On Facebook I just posted this great old Lyle Lovett song, This Old Porch, because my son once told me that every time he hears it he thinks of me. He’s not on Facebook but I had a silly superstitious thought that somehow it might wiggle at him a little.
But one line in the lyric brought forth such a detailed memory and it has stayed with me. The line is about an old theater on main street, and suddenly I remembered being a young girl, maybe 10 years old, going to the movies in tiny little Graham, Texas. There was one theater in town, on the square, and it smelled old and musty. I don’t remember what movie we saw; each movie played for a month, so once you saw it you just had to wait another month for the next movie, or see the same one again. I remember sitting in the cool, dark theater with my sister and brother after my mother dropped us off, and there were just a few other kids in the theater. It was a very hot summer day, and we had Charms lollipops, those thick chunks of lurid-colored sugar that turned our tongues matching colors. Someone in the theater threw his lollipop at the screen and we were all scandalized by that vandalism, happening right before our eyes. It was stuck to the screen throughout the movie. But I remember how my skin felt, how raw I felt, how pressed-on by the world, how unformed it was to be me. Big Daddy had just died and my one little place in the world was gone, and I felt like a speck of dust in a raging, scary universe. I remember how my muscles felt, how my stomach felt, how my mouth tasted. That was more years ago than my father lived, isn’t that amazing? Memory is the most incredible thing, whatever the memories are. How lucky a thing to have them.
Book club tonight, and a friend’s wedding on Saturday. Summer in Texas is here, 100 degrees coming this weekend. A teenager’s death by snake in the news. My daughter Katie’s birthday is coming up, an age that surprises us both — how can that be? And Oliver is walking. Life is, as always, all kinds of things at once. I kind of love that.
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Yesterday I took a 90-minute yoga class called “create a quiet presence in your bones.” I was drawn to it for both the quietness aspect, and for it being centered in the bones. It’s possible to create a quiet presence in your heart, your soul or spirit, your mind . . . but this was in the bones, and that was appealing to me.
I’ve been doing this for almost a year, now. Daily yoga — well, near-daily yoga — meditation, mindfulness, my old ‘one thing at a time’ deal. Vegetarian eating when the choices are mine. I think it has stuck as a life change, and believe me, no one is more surprised about that than me, the professional changer.
But here’s the deal. Just because it has stuck, and just because I’m coming up on a whole year of doing it, that doesn’t mean it has become mindless and automatic. (Mindless, ha! Yeah, no, that’s the antithesis of the point I guess.) Nothing about it has become automatic, by which I mean I have to choose it all the time and sometimes I don’t want to do it. I’m not rigid about any of it, but I don’t want to stop, even if on a particular day I don’t want to go, either. Some days I eat that pint of frozen yogurt and enjoy the hell out of it. Some days I am so deeply exhausted it’s better for me to take a warm shower and go to bed with a commitment to practice yoga the next day. Or I have a nasty head cold and a sliced-open finger and an especially grieving heart (which probably contributed to slicing open the finger). Take care, take care, take care, start again.
Still, after a year of practicing, it gets noisy inside me. I get overly distracted by shiny fast things. I notice I didn’t even notice the dinner I made, or ate. I feel adrift, maybe even unmoored at times. And so yesterday I was drawn to the ‘quiet in the bones’ practice because I really felt I needed that. I felt so little quiet inside me, anywhere. It’s not like it used to be, all whizzy and frantic, but I can notice that the stillness is gone. So I have to go searching for it again. I wanted to soak it into my bones so it holds me still and quiet from the inside.
One idea that really hampers us is to believe that people get ‘enlightened,’ and then they’re that way forever and ever. We may have our moments, and if we get sick and have lots of things happening, we may fall back. But a person who practices consistently over years and years is more that way, more of the time, all the time. And that’s enough. There is no such thing as getting it.
It was a nice bit of synchronicity, my coming across that passage at the same time I was thinking about this. Thank heavens one change that has not wavered is my understanding of balance, that the wobbling and leaning this way and then that to recenter IS the balance. Balance is not a perfect still point, unmoving and fixed — not even if you are a solid object like a cement pillar, but especially if you are a human being.
And here’s the coolest, most amazing thing of all about life. I really love this, and think about it all the time. With the next breath, you can shift and start over. I just find that so wonderful, so remarkable, and so worthy of gratitude. Went on a little junk food jag you regret? OK! Start eating the way you want to eat right now, problem solved. Gotten off track with your meditation practice, or your regular jogging routine, or lifting? OK! Start again today. Tomorrow presents opportunities galore, and if you’re in some kind of dreadful boat cast off from the shore and it’s storming — and buddy, life will do that to you sometimes — there will come a tomorrow when the skies clear and you can start rowing for shore, and in the meantime you do what you can.
At least this is true for me, and for people I have known in my life. You go forward then back but usually you hitch up your britches and go forward again. Sometimes it’s a long way back so it’s a long way forward to get back to where you were, and sometimes it’s a bit of a plummet. Well then, OK. I suppose it would be nice if we wanted to do something and just did it perfectly and forever and always. It would be weird, too, wouldn’t it? We’d all eat right and exercise and recycle perfectly. We’d follow through perfectly on hobbies so we’d all become experts. I don’t know, I just don’t see it. 🙂
And so once again I sought out the quiet and settled it in my bones, and there it sits. It’ll leach out and I’ll seek it again. Whatever it is you’re after, you’ll probably let it slip out of your hands once in a while, and that’s just the nature of life. Life is not a problem, it just has this nature. And isn’t that OK?
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A long time ago, when I first married in 1979, my husband Jerry and I had a goal of eventually filling our home and lives with all (and only) handmade things. He would make all our furniture since he was already a carpenter, and I would make everything else. I even wanted the ordinary kitchen implements we used — our every wooden spoon — to be handmade. At the time I was a weaver and spinner and collected natural dyes. I knitted and crocheted, and sewed, and made bobbin lace. He made one of my looms, a 7-foot-tall Navajo loom, and all the various tools I needed for it. I still remember a gorgeous hardwood fork he made for tamping down the weft, and some of the shuttles he carved. I dreamed of spinning the yarn to weave the cloth to upholster the cushions on a couch he would make. I dreamed of throwing and glazing the pots and bowls and dishes we’d use. I learned to cook, and for many years made all our bread, jams, everything (because I had to, it turned out, since my son was allergic to the ubiquitous corn syrup).
Of course that’s impractical, not to mention expensive! Setting aside the time required to create each thing — and that’s a fair exchange, because the time spent is also pleasure, and fulfilling — just the expense of the materials was great. I can buy a set of several wooden spoons at the dollar store. A big bag of plastic chopsticks that will last forever. Aesthetically unappealing, but cheap, and sometimes cheap is the most important thing.
It’s still a goal I cherish, and would love to fulfill. I entertain the fantasy now and then; I think I’ll take some pottery classes and then rent some studio time to make myself a full set of dishes and bowls. I think I’ll learn to blow glass, learn some metalsmithing. There are so many places in central Texas where I could do those things. Then I remember I don’t have much, if any, time to spare for the things I already want to do. Again I say: I would be so darling at independent wealth. Just so darling.
Have you read any of the articles about Marie Kondo recently? She’s pushing her book on home organizing (the life-changing magic of tidying up), and one critically important detail involves asking yourself if each item sparks joy. If it does, you keep it. If it does not, you thank it for having been part of your life and you let it go. It occurred to me, in the wake of my post the other day about letting things go, that this is a way of handcrafting a whole life, rather than just the things in it.
Of course we all handcraft our lives, there is no other way to do it, but I think we rarely undertake it so consciously once we finish the initial set-up when we’re starting out. Things happen, we collect stuff and people and circumstances, and sometimes stuff is forced into our life and sometimes it’s forcibly removed, and we just kind of go from one day to the next with the stuff of our lives all around us, the same as the day before. But it is worth considering it as an exercise here and there, even if you don’t take it up as a mission: does this specific aspect of my life spark joy? Should I keep it, or is it time to honor what it has been and just let it go? (And “spark joy” seems like just one dimension, certainly not the only one. Not every single everything needs to or should spark joy. Maybe. I don’t know, I’m just thinking about this.)
My little Prius sparks joy, every time I use it. I keep it neat and clean (joy for me!), it’s cost-efficient, I love my Team Oxford Comma and HRC stickers on the back, it’s mine. Perhaps it can spark even more joy; I saw a white car in Chinatown the other day with a spray of brilliant-colored flower stickers arranged on the door, like a wave, and wanted that for my car. My home sparks joy, and the spare guest room — which has been an emotionally fraught space for me — will be changing as I let it go in that form and change it to a different use for me.
And so I consider the things I use every day, the spaces I spend my time in, the people I spend my time with, the places I go automatically — my grocery store, for instance — and I check in. Have I just happened into a routine, a mindless arrangement of thing/person/place? Would I choose this? Does it fulfill me in the way it’s supposed to? (I mean, my grocery story doesn’t have to “fulfill” me, but does it serve me as it could? Is it just my habit go-to place?)
This is a privileged person’s issue. It’s not the most important thing, even just in my own small life, and by far. I just thought of a scene from an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Jane Krakowski’s rich, privileged character is whining about some very trivial problem and saying that no one has it worse than her — and then Kimmy’s big smile falls and she gets up in her face and says, “YOU don’t get to say that.” So boo hoo, my iron does not spark joy, waah waah wah. I’m so grateful I have an iron . . . and a home with an iron . . . . and a life that allows me both. I’m lucky. And within that luckiness, as part of that luckiness, I also get to consider if my lucky life is open to tweaking here and there. And maybe I’ll just take a class and make a few plates and bowls.
(And if you haven’t seen this magnificent bit of video [thank you Marnie!], and speaking of Kimmy Schmidt, I give you this mash-up of Kimmy Schmidt and Mad Max. Go, women!)
When I was a very young teenager — maybe not yet a teenager, I can’t remember — I read Romeo and Juliet. Or maybe I saw the movie. Or maybe it was The Great Gatsby I read, or watched in the theater. I can’t remember now, but what I do remember is that I sobbed and sobbed for hours. Oh I cried so much, and felt it so deeply, and couldn’t stop crying. My response pissed off my mother, who told me that if I was going to act like that I would not be allowed to read books or watch movies any more. It’s just a book. It’s just a movie.
I thought of that while I was watching the series finale of Mad Men the other night because I was crying — ugly crying, the face all scrunched up and hot, the tears wet all over the face and dripping off the jawline, the fight to contain it in quiet. When Don and Betty had their final phone conversation and she called him honey and he called her Birdie, I fell apart. When Joan put the phone to her chest in disbelief that dude (whatever his name was) was leaving because she took the call, my heart ached. When Peggy talked herself into understanding that she loved good old hairy Stan, I was doing that crazy laugh-crying that kind of sounds like maybe you’re a wee bit crazy. Was I really devastated that the character Betty was saying goodbye to the character Don? A little of course, but what made me do that ugly crying was remembering my own moments of tenderness that spoke to a long, ancient history with someone I was no longer involved with, but had deeply loved and had been married to.
I just finished Book 3, Boyhood, of Knausgaard‘s deeply wonderful series called My Struggle. Obviously I have never been a boy, but I was a girl growing up around boys in class. I raised a boy. Like Knausgaard, I had a vicious, violent, alcoholic father who terrorized me and left me fragile and terrified in the world. Like Knausgaard I was a smart kid who was not particularly elegant interpersonally, and who was usually on the outside of things. His book left me with such a deep sense of knowing what it was to be a boy — and oh, the tyranny of puberty!! All those girls all around, torment! — and I cried throughout because I felt such knowing, even the bits I couldn’t possibly know for myself. His book isn’t exactly fiction but it isn’t exactly memoir either, except in the most important way. Freud talked about something called “screen memories.” A screen memory probably isn’t exactly true as it is constructed, but it stands in for a host of similar memories. So there may not have been that specific time at the Fina station in the green sweater when the bike broke and the friends all laughed, but there were many times that carried the important elements of that experience, and they all get collapsed into the summary screen memory. In a way, the screen memory is truer than the composites — the psychological significance is maintained — and I think that’s how Knausgaard’s stories are so very true.
And my friend Jeff pointed out that, like Linklater’s stunning movie (also) titled Boyhood, this book of Knausgaard’s properly elevates the small moments that actually give life its meaning and texture, the small moments that provide the polish or the grit that move us and shape us. The movie Boyhood was also fiction but not, and it also devastated me and made me cry so hard, for so many reasons. It’s these small human moments that connect us, whether they’re fiction, fictionalized, or fact (whatever that is) — because I haven’t sat on a bed dying of lung cancer telling my ex-husband to stay away, but I have had a very tender moment that spoke to a long history that was very big in my life, even though it’s over now. You probably haven’t had the lung cancer thing either, and actually that’s not important except to move the plot along. It’s the human, interpersonal spot that you connect with.
That is what I seek in story — a presentation of the human connecting spot so I can feel the exquisite experience of being alive as a person in the world. So I laugh-cry as Peggy talks herself into understanding herself . . . oh yes Peggy, I’ve done that too! How can people be so confused about themselves! Aren’t we silly sometimes. Aren’t we lost sometimes. Don’t we worry and want to help each other sometimes. Aren’t we jerks sometimes. Don’t we reach some bottom where we face ourselves and don’t like what we see. And what do we do then? Do we lie to ourselves, to others? Do we wallow? Do we give up, or get up?
It’s a tender thing, being a soft person in this sometimes hard world. We have all kinds of tricks to keep ourselves from being demolished by it, and that’s not wrong it’s just what it is to be people. We don’t have protective armor over our soft skin, we don’t have fangs and claws, we don’t have shells to pull ourselves into when we’re in danger. We have big fancy brains that monitor and warn and create stories, and we have watchful little hearts and spirits, we watch out for others and they watch out for us, and we have hopes and worries and we are connected to people so we have our hearts and nervous systems walking around in a whole bunch of places outside ourselves, and it’s all such a tender endeavor.
I am so grateful for writers and creators who give me opportunities to go to these places, to reawaken these various moments of my own, to remember my own experiences, to understand others’ experiences, and to remember that we all touch the same spots. I’m grateful for all the hours of pleasure I got from Mad Men, from Knausgaard, from movies, from books, from music, from art, from you.
My project here on this blog appears to be changing, perhaps even disappearing. For the last year, the changes I’ve been making have left me with increasingly little to say. I start lots of posts but find them irrelevant, or too trivial, or something I’ve said too many times already and find nothing new to say, so I trash them all. But it’s such an old habit of mine, writing on a blog, something I’ve done consistently since 2004-ish, so almost 11 years. For a long time it was a knitting blog, when I was a voracious knitter. For a period it was a food blog, when my husband and I were really involved in taking photographs of his cooking, which I loved. Of course I keep my travel blogs — primarily for myself, an electronic scrapbook of sorts — and I’ll continue to do that no matter what I do here.
Periodically I think well, I’ll start knitting again, or I’ll get back to making things and sharing them, or I’ll get more serious about writing about books and movies, or I’ll focus on food and health, or any of a number of topics. Or maybe I’ll post about this stage of my life, about aging….or maybe I will just live my life. The problem (to call it a problem) is that I’ve really been just very busy being and doing, and find little time or interest to write about those things afterwards.
So I don’t know what will happen. I am not taking the dramatic step of closing the site down and releasing the URL and shutting down my hosting service. But I am fallow, as you may have noticed, and am just going to let this be until something presses itself on me instead of trying to force myself into something. If you get the post because you Facebook friended the page, you’ll get a post whenever I post. Similarly if you are an email subscriber, or subscribe in a reader, you’ll see a post whenever I post and that will be that. If you just check my site now and then you may give up — and in that case I want to take this chance to thank you for following along on my various little excursions.
I’m pretty sure I will continue, I just don’t know what it will look like. But I hope you come along with me in some way.
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Last night we celebrated the birthday of one amazing woman in our book club. We gathered at a cool Indian restaurant near downtown; the last time I ate there it was a food truck. This happens a lot in Austin.
It was an exceptionally joyous evening, I thought; we love celebrating together, and we make a point of celebrating birthdays, but there seemed to be something a little extra special about last night’s celebration. It was also a lovely evening, early spring, soft.
While we were there last night I realized all this, but it was in looking at this picture this morning that I felt washed over with gratitude. This group of people, this welcoming, loving, warm, intelligent, loving group of people represent so much of my beautiful life in Austin. The beating heart of it is Katie and Oliver, of course, but when I think about what makes my life so large and textured and beautiful, it’s big: it’s Katie’s little family, these beautiful people, my poetry group, Nancy who I still cannot believe my great good luck to know and love and live next door to, Cindy who crosses so easily into my honest heart, other friends I care about and simply don’t get enough time to see on a regular basis. My beautiful, sweet home. This place, Austin, that is the most deeply familiar place I’ve ever lived — two of my children were born here. Bluebonnets. Deep Eddy. Great food. Live music.
I’m so healthy it’s amazing. How lucky is that?! I’m strong and look pretty good for an old gal and have enough work and get to see the world but I have my solid base here.
I look at that picture and easily remember the last time I was at that restaurant a couple of years ago. It’s where I first met two of the women in the picture, actually, but I barely remember because I was in such terrible shape that I’d forced myself out the door and couldn’t wait to hurry home and crawl back into my bed to cry. Two years ago. Then I had Katie and Trey, horrible grief over losing everything, and the house I’m renting. And now, just look. Everything is as different as it possibly could be. I’ve been sitting here trying to see if there’s anything that isn’t different, and the answer is no, not really. It’s all so different. Even our grief over Gracie has found a level that allows us to live with it.
Dang, y’all. Life can pull a 180 and even though you think it’ll always be dark, it really isn’t. Lucky, lucky me.
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About a year before my life fell completely apart in October, 2012, I finally came to a bit of peace about the fact that I was going to live in New York the rest of my life, at the same address no less. (This irony is not lost on me…) Before I found that peace, I’d been too afraid to relax and believe, because I thought that if I did, if I let my guard down, the pain would be too great when I lost it. So I had just about a year of relaxing, thinking aaah, OK, I won’t ever have to move again.
And then of course I had to move again, move #81 at least. For some very good reason, I didn’t turn on myself with recrimination and self-loathing — idiot, see? You should never have fallen for that. That would’ve been so me. Maybe everything around me was just in such agony and confusion that I didn’t have the energy to spare to hate myself for having believed that.
Then last June, when I started changing my life, I entered into a period of peace, by which I don’t mean inner peace but rather the peace of not having disasters and tragedies happening around me. Nothing bad was going on for me, or for anyone I love. It was weird. It kept going. That felt weirder and weirder. Once I felt unsettled by it because I didn’t know how to understand such a prolonged period without trouble.
This morning I realized that my life is still peaceful and I’m just used to it. It’s no longer noteworthy. I’m not afraid that it’ll end — probably because I know it will. Or, rather, it will be interrupted. Trouble will come to me and/or people I love, because that’s how it goes, but peace will return too.
Here’s a short list of things I’ve become accustomed to now:
peace, outer and inner
my body, which no longer looks temporary in its shape
daily exercise (what?)
my poetry group; I didn’t get anxious before they came the last two months because I am just used to them and know it’ll be great
my circle of women
eating well, the way I want. Of course that is regularly interrupted, when I go to NY and on vacation to places that heavily feature meat, like Colombia (whose motto ought to be ‘All Meat All The Time!’). But when it’s my choice, I’m so used to eating well that it’s my go-to selection.
Austin. I wasn’t used to this kind of life when I moved back, and didn’t think I could adjust to small-town living. It did take a while, and there were times it was hard, but I’ve gotten used to it and feel in its groove now, and love it again.
Of course this isn’t a list of things I’m grateful for — that would start off with my daughters and their families. The deal is I’ve always been used to them, unafraid that I’d lose them. And that’s just the best thing.
Speaking of, I get to spend a couple of days and tonight at Katie’s. All that delicious time with my daughter, and with Oliver, lucky lucky me. I hope you are having a period of peace, I hope you have something wonderful planned for the day, and if that’s not true for you at this moment just remember that it will be true again. xo
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Today I head back to Austin, to my wonderful little home. It feels like I’ve been gone more than a month, for some reason; we moved around in Colombia quite a bit, so maybe that added to the feeling. I can’t wait to see Katie, and to see our little Oliver — who turns one year old on Saturday, as hard as that is to imagine.
This is a random kind of scattered post, driven by the impulse to write more than by having something urgent to say. 🙂 Some days are like that.
Here are thirty things to do instead of weighing yourself each morning. I just love them:
Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths to center yourself for the day ahead
Even though the suitcase was heavy I carried it by the handle as I walked into the departure hall. I detested the tiny wheels, first of all because they were feminine, thus not worthy of a man, a man should carry, not roll, secondly because they suggested easy options, shortcuts, savings, rationality, which I despised and opposed wherever I could, even where it was of the most trivial significance. Why should you live in a world without feeling its weight? Were we just images? And what were we actually saving energy for with these energy-saving devices?
So take the long way, feel the weight, be in the world by really being in the world. And speaking of Knausgaard (say his name Karl OOH-vuh KuhNOWSgourd), just wow. Here are some links and stuff to share about him and his 3,600-page memoir in six volumes (not all of which have been translated in English yet):
An article about him in The New Republic, including the detail that his first wife found out that he was in love with another woman (who later became his second wife) when she, along with everyone else in Norway, read about it in the second volume of his book. One thing for sure you must say about him and his books: he is brutally honest about himself, not just others.
A fantastic interview with him in The Paris Review (I know, TPR pretty much only has fantastic interviews….). “Book One ends with that impossible thing: an original metaphor for death. The last sentence of this interview may do the same for writing. On the line here are both a man’s soul and his ass. The work has pissed off his fellow Norwegians, including the one he married. But the biggest risk is, in a single work, expending all the unconscious material of forty years of life. He calls My Struggle his authorial suicide, and after talking to him last weekend, I believe him, but I don’t think it means he won’t write another book.”
Knausgaard took a road trip across some of the US and wrote two separate articles for the NYT Magazine. They are wonderful. Part 1, and Part 2.
Of course I’m especially into his books since I’m going to Norway in July, but even if I weren’t I’d be as thrilled with them. Such a fabulous intellect he has, and such deep and inquisitive insight into himself and what it is to be human.
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I thought I would share my regular challenges, the things I have to work on all the time because I believe these things are key to a meaningful, whole, happy life. Here we go, in the order I thought of them:
Be honest with yourself. If you’re out and out lying to yourself that’s pretty bad, but I think most of us aren’t honest with ourselves in small ways, daily ways, especially in the hard areas we want to grow. So many people want to lose weight, so I’ll use that as an example. Very regularly — maybe even every day — during your ‘diet’ you splurge and eat food that’s not going to help you lose weight. Perhaps you tell yourself it’s not so bad, or it’s just one day. You know, perhaps you don’t really want to lose weight! Maybe you’re doing that for reasons that aren’t your own, you’re doing it for/because of someone else. Be honest with yourself about this: do you really want to lose weight right now? Another way to be dishonest with yourself is simply not to look — and that’s been my most common flaw. When I’d be trying to lose weight and I’d eat badly, I just wouldn’t weigh myself so I didn’t have to know. I am the queen of not looking in addition to being queen of the pillbugs.
Spend time with the right people. If you enjoy mocking other people and gossiping, then those are your people. If you enjoy complaining about everything, you’d want to find people you could do that with and be accepted. If you just want to talk talk talk talk talk talk talk, you’d obviously want people who would be willing to do nothing but listen. Pay attention to the people you spend your very precious time with. Pay attention to how you feel when you are in their presence, or when you leave. Do you feel understood, uplifted, good about things? Happy, even? If you always feel worn down or tired, maybe it’s time for a shift. This one sneaks up on me, but then I guess it can only do that. Anyone can have a complaining day, a gossiping day, so you have to let it play out and figure it out. This one’s really important. Spending time with the wrong people can sap you, discourage you, and leave you with less than you started with.
Forgive yourself. What makes you so special and perfect and grandiose that you don’t deserve forgiveness? You do. Even if you have done something that you truly regret, something you’d do so differently if only you could do it over, you have to forgive yourself. Quit beating yourself up, holding a grudge about it. It’s a waste of energy, it doesn’t help anyway, and you deserve forgiveness. You do. Learn your lesson, don’t do it again, forgive yourself, and move on. This one has been hard for me.
Make a mistake. Set out to make a mistake! For heaven’s sake, unless you’re doing brain or heart surgery, unless someone’s life is in your hands, so what! (And, ahem, they make mistakes too.) Good chefs are good because they can fix their mistakes, they can slip around it and make it work anyway if something goes wrong. Because something’s going to go wrong. And anyway, you learn from mistakes, and mistakes then require your creativity to repair. So make a mistake, sheesh. This goes with #11. If you’re so afraid to make a mistake, (a) you stay all clenched up and (b) you’ll never find out if you’re great at something. (This one is hard for me, even though I make mistakes all the time.)
Take care of yourself as well as you take care of others. If for no other reason, you can’t take care of others if you fall apart. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for them.
Happiness is an inside job. He’s not going to ‘make’ you happy, she’s not, a bigger house isn’t, a different circumstance, someone else’s list or plan (including this one!), nope nope nope nope nope. You have to figure it out for yourself. And all the answers are inside, waiting. There is very good evidence that people have consistent levels of happiness; if you become paralyzed, you’re likely to eventually return to the same level of happiness you had before. It’ll be different, but it’ll be the same level. If you win the lottery, you’ll return to your old level once the thrilling shock wears off. So if you’re miserable, winning the lottery is not going to make you suddenly a happy person. You can pay your bills, and that can relieve stress, but it won’t make you happy. Luckily I’ve got this one down pretty well.
Take each relationship for itself. If a relationship failed, you can’t take some aspect of that and then hold it against future relationships! You just can’t! (Well, sometimes you can. If he was an abusive alcoholic, you might learn not to enter important personal relationships with someone who drinks too much and is unstable.) Otherwise, let it go and take the new relationship for itself. A very cruel woman turned on me and was breathtakingly hateful. She was extremely extroverted. If I meet another extremely extroverted person, I cannot carry any assumptions into that relationship. Because of her, I cannot learn that people are not to be trusted. She was not to be trusted, that’s the lesson.
Take your time. Go slowly. I don’t know why this is so hard, and I don’t know if it’s hard for everyone, but it has always been hard for me. For me, it’s now about 80% as hard as it used to be, so I’m getting somewhere. If you want to try something new, go slowly! You don’t have to rush! No matter what you’re doing, you probably don’t have to rush as much as you think you do. OK, there might be occasions where you do, but they’re rare. Really. Take your time. Mister Rogers said so in a song: “I like to take my time, I mean that when I like to do a thing, I like to take my time and do it right. I mean I just might make mistakes if I should have to hurry up, and so I like to take my time.” Take a big breath. Give yourself time. It’s your time, after all.
Forgive others. HARD. This one’s hard, and I’m not good at it unless the person asks for forgiveness. I love that old saying, “Failing to forgive is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.” (Actually, the saying is about resentment, but I think it’s just as true for forgiveness.) I had to forgive someone for some pretty huge things, and I was a terrible mess about it. I held onto that and clenched it to me for years. I even realized that wasn’t hurting him at all! I even realized that he had no idea what was happening with me, and there he went, just blithely living his life. I even knew that at the time! I made myself sick, holding onto that. I won’t lie, I have no answers here, but I believe it’s important and worth the effort. The thing is, you get the reward, you get the gift, you get off the hook.
Let small moments count. I’ve got this one down pretty well too, but I didn’t always. One reason the movie Boyhood was so great is that it turned the camera on so many of the small moments. Those are often the ones that linger. And the great thing is that you then have so many opportunities every day to have moments of peace, or happiness, or maybe even joy. Maybe just a moment. Every single day in my life starts with a small moment that gives me deep joy. The ritual of making my coffee (I know, I talk about this a lot) gives me such pleasure, and I never fail to be present in it. How lucky is that, starting each day with deep pleasure, quiet joy, peace. There are so many small moments in your day, and if you let them count for something, let them contribute to your meaning, you’ll be in better shape.
You’re not perfect, I promise. This one’s kind of funny. I mean, we all know we’re not perfect. We know that. But some of us hold ourselves to perfection in everything! Maybe because each thing is just “this one thing.” That doesn’t mean you just let go and do everything as sloppily as possible, it just means that the world isn’t going to stop twirling if your pantry is disorganized. If your hair doesn’t look all that great and you have to be somewhere. Really. I’ve gotten so much better at this as I’ve gotten older; I used to be horrible about it. Just horrible. Now I do my best and if it’s not perfect, OK. And the best part is that I’ve learned not to announce it and apologize for it before anyone even notices. I had planned to take a radicchio lentil salad to my book club meeting last week, but there was not one head of radicchio to be found in this city. I looked. So I bought some mixed salad greens and it really wasn’t as good as it would’ve been on the radicchio. I shrugged and never mentioned it at book club. Didn’t apologize for it. I’d tried hard, I went to three stores, so I did my best. And it was just fine.
Be grateful. This one has always come easily to me, so I can speak with authority here. Oh, just be grateful. If you became blind tomorrow, all of a sudden you’d realize in retrospect how great you had it when you could just look at your daughter’s face — and you just took it for granted! How great that you could just hop in the car whenever you wanted and go wherever you wanted — and you took it for granted! So if there is nothing else available to be grateful for, if you can see you can be grateful for that. Do your legs work? Yes? Grateful! Even if they’re not quite as peppy as they used to be, you aren’t in a wheelchair. Pretty clouds in the sky today? Grateful for that beauty that exists there for you to notice. Get an email from a friend? Aren’t you lucky! This is one of those things that gets easier and easier with practice, and the coolest thing is that the better you get at it, the more things you have to be grateful for. And that’s quite amazing.
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Tuesday night was my poetry group party, and it was embellished and graced by the presence of some of my book club women and my friend Nancy. I’m not a party person. AT ALL. That’s the understatement of the century. I’m also not a party-thrower; this was the fourth party I’ve given in my life. But it was a smashing success — my home was beautiful, filled with such wonderful, interesting people, all warm and smart and filled with stories and life. The food was abundant, as was the conversation. That’s my fear about giving a party, that it won’t get over that hump into party, but this one did. Little clumps of people here and there engrossed in their own conversations, shifting combinations, laughter. Gosh it was nice.
And now, with that behind me, the rest of the year drifts softly to the end. Nothing scheduled, really, nothing pressuring me, to be sure, just a soft landing to the year. Breakfast with friends on Saturday, Christmas Eve and Christmas at Katie’s next week, the joy of Oliver’s first Christmas, and then a very quiet week to wind it all down. My cold has faded enough — finally — that I was able to do my early morning yoga this morning. It’s going to be another rainy day, gray skies, and kind of cool, so I sit in my cozy leather chair in front of the fire, in my quiet and homey home, and reflect.
Last night I had back-to-back nightmares, the kind that I awoke from with a gutting gasp and instant sobs. I dreamed I was at Katie’s house and she got kind of sick, and everything escalated so so fast and she was in the hospital and then she died. In my dream shock I thought how glad I was that she’d gotten to know what it is to be a mother, and how devastated I was that she would not see Oliver’s first Christmas — so it was real-time. I woke up sobbing, sobbing, uncontrollable pain. It’s just a dream, just a dream, just a dream (my eyes are full of tears even typing this) and I finally fell back asleep….into a dream that I was lying in my bed, sobbing in grief, and I heard someone unlocking my front door. I called out, assuming it was Marnie, but it was Jerry (my kids’ dad). He walked back to my bedroom and he was holding a small child, not Oliver, and he looked terrible. And he was there to tell me that Marnie had been killed in an accident. I woke up howling. Just a dream, just a dream, just a dream, just a dream.I’m so lucky in my daughters, and I know that, and cherish them ferociously. The loss of them would be impossible, there would be nothing left of me. I have friends who have only sons, and two friends suffering the agony of estrangement from daughters as I suffer with my son. Agony, worse than you could ever imagine. But I am blessed, lucky beyond words, to have these two beautiful, loving daughters who love me and who want to be in my life and I never take that for granted for one second.
In a meta way, I am also very lucky to know that I am lucky, and lucky to know how precious it all is. My poor husband doesn’t have any of this, he doesn’t know how to see the good stuff, he doesn’t know how to be happy. He told me last night there is a class he’s going to take, an advanced Buddhist class, something about colors and energy, and he hopes he can learn how to see it. How lucky I am just to be able to see. How lucky.
It’s been an amazing year in my life. It hasn’t been a great year in the world, so much terror and slaughter and inhuman politicking and then in so many of my friends’ lives, dreadful loss and suffering. So many friends are happily kicking this year to the curb, and I remember having done that to 2012. Goodbye and good riddance and don’t come back. But for me it’s been an amazing year, one of my best, and so I nestle in the last bit of it and allow myself to open my heart and mind to possibilities for next year. To make plans for next year, to set some concrete goals. Foremost among them will be the ongoing presence of my beautiful daughters in my life (lucky lucky me), and more time with them.
I hope the next couple of weeks of your life hold space for peace and quiet and moments of reflection. I hope they aren’t stressful and pressured. I hope you have the twinkling of thoughts about new possibilities for yourself in the coming months. <3
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I’m not a stupid woman, though I do have a very hard time with extremely straight, linear, logical thinking. I can never make any sense of time when we come home from one of our trips. This time yesterday, whatever that means, I was sitting by the pool in Phnom Penh having breakfast. Then a couple hours later we drove to the airport and I started feeling very bad. Then we had a 3-hour trip to Hong Kong. Then a 4-hour layover. Then we flew for 16 hours to New York, and I was feeling so terrible with what turned out to be a mercifully short-lived 24-hour flu. Then we spent almost 2 hours getting through the immigration line, miserable me, my aching back, feeling like a train slammed into me. Then a long wait in the freezing cold line for a taxi. Then a cab ride to Teaneck, to pick up Marc’s car (thanks to my beautiful friend Craig for letting us keep the car there), then a drive into New York and the daze of getting things turned on, plugged in, and then a slice of pizza from the corner, and then a long hot shower, then a hopscotching bit of “sleep,” and awake at 4:30am for the day. But this time yesterday morning (31 hours ago?) I was having breakfast in Phnom Penh.
Being away for so long, and in such a different kind of place, makes you keenly aware of the bits of your daily life that mean so much. It’s not like they are a mystery, it’s not like you’re surprised to spot them, but the clouds part and the sun shines on those experiences when you get to return to them. For me, one of the most pointed daily pleasures is my morning coffee routine, grinding my beans, cold water in the kettle, boiling water over the grounds, a 4-minute timer, plunging, and pouring that first cup. The steam, the little swirl of the oils on the surface of the coffee. The hot cup, the beautiful smell, those first rich sips. We have found that our favorite countries to visit are the Buddhist countries, and I’d further narrow that to Buddhist countries that also favor coffee over tea. The coffee was quite good in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but my own coffee, my own making of my coffee, the deep quiet pleasure of that ritual, the pleasure of getting back to it is a vivid pulsing red.
A hot shower, as long as I want it, at home. The peace of sleep in a bed that is partly my own, at home — with just the right pillows, and just the right number of pillows. A slice of pizza at 2am, bought at the corner and jazzed up. Riverside Park waiting, though I may not see it today. And the extraordinary anticipation of my own coffee, my own bed, my own shower, in my own cozy little home in Austin tomorrow….the clouds part and the choir of angels sings for me.
None of this is to take away even a mustard seed of the pleasure of traveling, not one bit. It’s just that these things are true too.
And now the re-entry. Being in steamy hot southeast Asia makes the “hey we’re leading up to Christmas” stuff very strange. I’ve been seeing friends in my Facebook stream mention that they’ve put up their tree, their homes are decorated for the holidays, all that stuff. Even in Buddhist Cambodia, there were Santa Clauses everywhere, but they made no sense. I won’t decorate this apartment for Christmas, I don’t unpack here, I don’t do my laundry yet. Today I will try to catch up on email, on the comments you left here and there. Today I will write my last post on the travel blog, finish up processing the last pictures, get everything uploaded to Flickr. Today I’ll cull through recipes and articles about Christmas party food to figure out what I’ll make for the poetry group Christmas party I’m having next week. (Next week? Is that right? The 16th, whenever that is.) Tomorrow morning very early I fly back to Austin, and there I’ll unpack, do my laundry, do some grocery shopping to fill my empty refrigerator, and decorate a Christmas tree.
And beginning tomorrow I return to the other parts of my life that I dearly missed while I was away — eating my own delicious food, my twice-daily yoga practice, meditation before bed, seeing my gorgeous girlfriends, regular coffee breaks with my amazing friend Nancy, seeing my family. I put on six pounds while I was away and I’m just fine with that; I certainly wasn’t worried about any of it while I was there, but I feel the bit of splodginess and look forward to trimming it back. Vacation was messy and hot and startling and hard and beautiful and shocking and pleasure and joy and in each moment. It’s time to be back home.
Thanks to you, my beautiful friends, who came along with me on vacation. I loved your comments here and on that blog and on Facebook, I loved knowing that you were sharing it with me, and I loved sharing it with you. It’s something I love very much, and so sharing it with you was another layer of joy. xo
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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!).
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.
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.)
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I think most people reflect on their past year around New Year’s Eve/Day. As a person who is enormously birthday-focused, I prefer to do it now, right at the transition from one age to another — a meaningless moment, really, I’m the same on November 6 as November 5, but it’s a moment worth marking. As difficult as 2013 was for me, 2014 was that same degree of wonderful. There were troubles and fears and worries, of course, but WOW what a year of my life. Oliver’s birth. Travel to Sri Lanka and Greece. A deep transformation within myself. Monthly book club meetings, monthly poetry group in my house, and monthly trips to New York City. Here was my 55th year:
November — I flew to NYC on my birthday last year. We went upstate to the sweet little cabin we always rent. It was a lovely weekend. We marked a lot of sad anniversaries. We went to Sri Lanka, what a gorgeous place, and I bathed a pregnant mama elephant. We happily announced that Katie was pregnant with Oliver — the highlight of the month, sharing that news!
December — Lucky me, I drove to Dallas to spend the weekend with Karl and Dixie, and I need to do that again. Marnie and Tom came to Austin for Christmas, so my family was together (except for Will) for the first Christmas celebration since 2004.
January — Marc came to Austin for a few days. I had no work. Karyn and Mike invited me to their river house and it was glorious, eating and talking and kayaking. The lawsuit I thought was safely behind me wasn’t, as I got served 6 weeks after the deadline. I read The Orphan Master’s Son (thank you Lynn, for picking it for book club), now one of my very favorite books ever. Read it if you haven’t.
February — I had no work. I read The Goldfinch and enjoyed it a lot. I was depressed, and also worried about some loved ones. Marc and I had our first Skype date, on Valentine’s Day, and that was fun. I replaced the cruel inner voice that mocks me with Dixie’s sweet loving voice, a miracle that still holds. I was accepted into the Yale Writer’s Conference.
March — I had no work. I finished Oliver’s quilt, doing the actual quilting of it at Karyn’s house. Oliver was born!That was the highlight of being 55. Katie and Trey became parents of a much-wanted and deeply adored child, and I was reborn as Pete. We thought a little harder about Gracie than usual. Marnie’s birthday, always a huge joy for me.
April — Three loved ones had health scares that scared me too. It was a hard month, but one with moments of poignancy. Marc came to meet Oliver. I started getting work again.
May — Someone I thought was my friend turned on me in such a vicious way and I learned that she’d been saying terrible things about me all along. I still find it hard to believe. My friends surrounded me and our book club endured. Mother’s Day, extra special this year, Will’s birthday, sad and lonely without him. Marc’s birthday. Things started really coming together for me in this month, a kind of barely visible beginning of a process that unfolded the rest of the year. We went to Greece and I laughed my way across Crete.
June — WHAT a big month. Greece. Yale, and then the crushing heartbreak of my workshop, which was led by THE narcissist of narcissists. So bad that I left after the first day primarily because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep myself from saying something in the room that I would probably regret. Too long away from home. Finally home, I began my anti-flailing project (makes me laugh, that name) in earnest and assembled the elements that carried me forward from the changes that began the previous month. March brought Oliver’s birth, the highlight of my year, and June brought a kind of rebirth for me. Marnie introduced me to Anne Carson and I read The Autobiography of Red, which still haunts me.
July — Katie’s birthday, one of my favorite days of the year. In earnest, I focused on one thing at a time, and mindfulness came more easily. Daily yoga, shifting from too hard to a deep pleasure. Silence in my house as a nourishment. I saw the movie Boyhoodand my heart broke more about my son, but then I got an insight that eased the pain a little bit. It’s such a beautiful movie, one of my favorites now. I became grateful for my body, such a shock to feel that way.
August — Meditation and mindfulness helped me release an idea I’d loved, but that kept me kind of fixed — the idea of story. I went swimming and was very happy all month. Robin Williams committed suicide, and I wrote a post that got more than 7,000 views. (shocking.) The lawsuit against me simply disappeared, as the other side just dropped it. I still can’t figure out any of it. And ditto for my husband.
September — A whole bunch of insights this month that moved me so far along. I finally got past my past. Finally. I had the bubbles insight that helps me stay in the present. We went to the Delaware Water Gap. I found the best rhythm for my day, morning and evening yoga, work, taking care of myself, making a luscious dinner, meditation (only 10 minutes!).
October — Just a quiet, peaceful, happy month. All the life changes settling into place, in their good groove. Time with people I love. A trip to the Catskills to see the leaves change. Halloween at Katie’s — Oliver’s first, in a cute little alligator costume (Olliegator, as Marnie adorably christened him).
November brings a lot of adventure — my birthday tomorrow, joyfully celebrated; a too-short 4-day visit to Marnie and Tom in Chicago; a return to New York City and then on to Laos, Cambodia, and a jaunt to Hanoi. Wow. What a great start to my next year.
My year was made most wonderful, of course, by the people in my life. There are so many of you near and far who are my online friends and you add so much to my life. Those in my in-person life, what would I do without you? My daughters, Katie and Marnie, the biggest blessings, I cannot imagine my good fortune. Their husbands, Trey and Tom, so grateful my daughters married so well and brought me two more sons to love. Oliver, too big in too many ways for words. Sweet Dixie, who lives so deep in my heart she is with me always. My Austin friends, Karyn and Faith and Debbie and Anne and Jennifer and Diane and Dee and Lynn, book club friends and boon companions; Nancy and Bob, hard to imagine my life without them next door (and coffee breaks with Nancy, never long enough); other Austin friends I don’t get to see nearly often enough, Cindy and Jeff and Kathy and Krissi. Sherlock and Peggy, too far away and I don’t get to see them nearly enough. Traci and Craig in New York, giving me such great joy and friendship wherever I am. Throughout this past year each one of you has touched my heart and in most cases, given me something so important you may not know….but I do.
I am grateful for my good health and strong body, for my sharp mind, for my family members, for my friends, for my beautiful home, for having work, for having enough money to take good care of myself and do what I can for others, for having found a way to keep my marriage going that works for us, for living long enough to find peace and happiness. It’s been a magnificent year. Thank you for living it with me. <3
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A few evenings ago, there was a piece about Glen Campbell on the nightly news. He’s in stage 6 (of 7, the final stage) of Alzheimer’s, and he can no longer speak. Of course during the piece they included bits of his old music and performances, including Gentle On My Mind, a song I’ve always loved so much. It lifts my heart somehow, and sends it outside. I remember him, and that song, from my late childhood, and remembered what he looked like. Seeing him on the news, after not seeing him since he was so popular, was a little bit surprising, but not all that much. Decades have passed, of course he has aged. He is dealing with a brutal disease that always wins. I felt sad, aww, Glen Campbell, I always liked his music.
But then I tracked down the song on YouTube and saw what he actually looked like back when that song was popular. Oh how young, how baby-faced, his hair trimmed and styled so neatly, the show so innocent, really, his lack of sophistication in performance at that early point. Everything stretching out in front of him, all possible and unknown. It kind of wrenched my heart. My sadness for him got into my heart, instead of just being an idea of some kind.
Isn’t it our ending that makes the whole thing so very poignant? We have our time in the sun, our time where we flower and bloom, our time of long strides and loud voice, and then the road inevitably takes us along to its end. And looking back from that perspective, it all takes on a different cast. All the things we worried about — if we can even remember most of them — were just ephemera. The things we took such pride in — careers, accomplishments, our stuff — were also just ephemera. But they meant so much to us, we lived our short lives with our eyes, hearts, minds, focusing on those things. The troubles we had, mostly small and forgotten but some we weren’t sure we would survive, those look different too. There’s a kind of tenderness toward life, and ourselves at those hard times, that we just don’t have the perspective to hold when the troubles are hitting.
None of this is to say that therefore we shouldn’t worry about what feels worrisome, that we shouldn’t pursue careers and accomplishments and stuff — that’s just not my point. It’s that those things that feel SO very important bloom and then pass away too. The whole of our time here, sitting up and looking around and chasing butterflies, touches me so deeply it makes me cry. We’re really something. We love anyway. We give of ourselves to people we love and sometimes to complete strangers. We reach out. We try to make our stands, to leave something behind. We care for each other, sometimes tenderly and sometimes very inadequately. We’re lonely, we ache. We have deep longings, some of which are never met. We screw up, sometimes royally, and sometimes we didn’t mean it and sometimes we did. And then we’re gone. Most of the time we live as if we have all the time in the world, and only recognize the brevity of it all when our hands are forced.
It’s just impossible to hold that awareness all the time. We have groceries to buy and errands to run and bills to pay, for heaven’s sake. But I always think it’s worth pausing for just a minute to look at your sweet life, and the landscape around it — friends, family, towers you’ve built, life you’ve nurtured — and see it for what it is: a short-lived experience that is more precious than we usually acknowledge. It passes through our hands and into others’ hands, and then into others whose hands we might not be around to see. And then into others who won’t even know our names, what we loved, what gave us anguish, how we smiled, that funny little quirk of ours.
Notice it. Be present. It’s passing through and away right now, catch it now. Look out the window, see the breeze in the leaves, or the lights in the building across the street. See the sun heading up, and down, and trading places with the moon. Go out and look at that moon, let the stars dazzle you as they used to when you didn’t know anything about them but their beauty and wonder. Put your phone away and look gently at the person across the table from you, and ask how they are doing, and listen. It’s all over way too soon.
It’s been so quiet around the palace! It’s been quiet in my head too, all those swirling twirling eddies of overthinking and worries and time travel quieted down. Something appears on my mental horizon and as it drifts toward me, I smile. Bubbles.
My days are so full, so busy. An hour of yoga each day, now, and each minute of it is pleasure. Twenty minutes to meditate (not all those minutes are pleasure!). A daily walk (more when I’m in NYC). Time with Katie, Oliver. Time with my dear, dear friends here and there. Time to make a beautiful dinner, time to enjoy it, time to clean up. Time to travel . . . so much travel coming up in November. And yet time is slower than it used to be, the days feel longer somehow. My actual experience of time passing feels slower. It’s very interesting. I think this is the longest time a behavioral change has stuck with me, and while I don’t say this with absolute certainty, I do feel like this head shift is going to stay. Doing one thing at a time, tending to being mindful, being present, I continue to be very surprised by the ripples and implications.
And I’ve lost 25 pounds since June — 4″ around my hips, 5″ around my waist, 2″ around my rib cage. Historically it’s the return of a depression that throws me back into overeating, and I’ve cycled through depressions enough times to leave space for that to happen to me again. I hope not, of course, but I cannot be certain on this topic. I sure do love the body I’m in right now. I’ve dropped from a size 14 to a size 8, which is impossible to believe because I’ve never worn that size, ever (except in elementary school). I had to buy some new pants the other day because I couldn’t keep any of mine up and the furthest-in hole on my belts were still not enough. I just keep looking at the tag on the ones I’m wearing to convince myself it’s true. It’s so strange. I think these internal changes have helped me here, too. It’s such fun to have fun with how I look, instead of picking clothes that disguise rolls and parts of my shape that I didn’t like.
I’ve been thinking about this blog, especially since I’ve had nothing to post for quite a while now. For so long I used it to work my way through things I was thinking about or troubled by, as a way to figure things out. Since I was the CEO (hell, the whole C-suite!) of the Overthinkers Club, and since I was still grappling with many of the events of my life, I had a never-ending source of material. With the arrival of the gorgeous bubble idea, I seem to have been relieved of the overthinker’s burden, and hallelujah for that. I don’t know what to do here, now. Write to share stuff? Books and movies? Write when something interesting happens, when I travel, when something big (fun or trouble) happens? I just don’t know, so the blog will be a bit fallow as I work my through the next incarnation. I can’t imagine not having it; I’ve been writing a blog of one kind or another for fourteen years. Bear with me, which is easy if you’re a Facebook friend of the site or if you subscribe. I’ll show up when something posts, otherwise out of sight out of mind.
I hope you have a wonderful and beautiful Sunday! We’ve had spectacular weather in Austin this weekend, and today I’m going to work outside, on my patio, and then see Gone, Girl with some of my girlfriends. Maybe I’ll have something to say about that. 🙂 xx
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My last post about bubbles has been such a gift to me. I didn’t say this in that post, but the idea came to me as a whole, beginning to end, at the end of a yoga session. I was lying there in savasana, just being as present as I could be, certainly not drifting around in my head, and it popped into my mind. It was hard to stay present for the rest of the pose, because I was so eager to get it written down before I forgot it. My mind works like that. When I finished, I went straight to my computer and just typed what had come to me in that moment, and that was the post.
Since then I’ve thought a little more about it, and feel so grateful for the specific image. Bubbles are light, not heavy. They are playful. A few times since I wrote the post, I’ve ‘heard’ myself think, bubbles about bubbles and I let go of whatever was starting to whirl in my head.
Still, there was something that the idea failed to capture. It was something important, and I couldn’t quite see it. Luckily I have the best, smartest friends. My friend Kristie (whose blog I always enjoy so much, something beautiful or delicious to enjoy in nearly every post) wrote me and filled in the gap so perfectly. She has an adorable granddaughter named Lucy, who had recently visited. Kristie bought some Crayola bubbles for Lucy — and as you’d guess, the bubbles are colored. She said she hadn’t quite looked at the fine print; if the bubbles pop against your clothing or skin, they might stain. Kristie wisely noted that “sometimes the bubbles that hit us in life are like those Crayola ones. They leave their mark.” YES, they do. And that was the missing piece.
But I don’t think that’s a bad thing (and I don’t imagine Kristie does either). The things of life change us, shape us, color us. The older we get, I suppose the more we’re colored by those bubbles. I like to imagine a rainbow of colored spots all over us. We’re colored by the nice bubbles as well as by the dark bubbles. And this is an important way we change; Kristie’s great addition adds that important dimension. Of course who wouldn’t dodge the dark bubbles if they could, and put themselves in the path of all the light ones, but life doesn’t work that way. I am who I am, standing here today in my multicolored splendor (and it is splendid), because of all those colored bubbles.
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Imagine this with me. Close your eyes and put yourself in your favorite setting. Maybe it’s a flower-filled prairie, like the one where Marnie and Tom got married. Maybe it’s a lush green lawn with woods on the far end. Maybe it’s the beach, maybe a white sand beach, and the waves are shushing over your feet. Maybe it’s a creek in the mountains. Maybe it’s a busy city — maybe it’s Broadway, in New York. Maybe it’s the high desert, maybe it’s the karst pillars of Halong Bay. It really doesn’t matter one bit. Close your eyes and put yourself there.
Now, imagine that there are bubbles in the air, floating toward you. Maybe just a few, maybe they’re floating softly. Maybe there’s a whole bunch of them. It really doesn’t matter one bit. Just see those bubbles. Some pop against your face and body, some float just past you, grazing your arm. Some are far off to the sides, above you. Maybe you’re surrounded by bubbles, maybe there are just a few. They come toward you, they touch you, they move past you . . . or they pop against you and the film soaks into your skin. Most just keep going, and now there are just as many behind you as there are in front of you.
There you stand, with nothing really in front of you, coming towards you. It’s the same air, it is just bounded here and there by ephemeral soap film. You can see through it, see exactly what’s behind it, because there’s nothing really there. That bounding film is very fragile, and when the bonds break there is the air, the same air. The same thing is behind you — just air, the same air, with a fragile boundary holding it in “clumps.” Apparent clumps, but they’re not really clumps, it’s just air.
It occurred to me last night that this is exactly what life is. Here we stand, in this moment. We see the future coming towards us — plans, worries, hopes, deadlines, errands, fears — and they truly are no more real than the bubbles. Right? They feel real, and some may in fact pop against you and soak into you. Those debts, they’re sure real. That deadline, your boss is mighty real! That lawsuit that doesn’t stand a chance….wait, that bubble just popped right before my eyes and came to absolutely nothing. But it felt so very real, the consequences seemed almost certain. Until the bubbles touch your skin, break, absorb into you, they’re nothing. So much time and present life is directed toward those bubbles.
All those bubbles behind you, experiences you had, experiences of others? They were real experiences as they were happening, but now they are just bubbles. That’s all they are now. Maybe you and I were standing so close to each other that a bubble popped against both our faces, so we can talk about that bubble . . . but it doesn’t exist any more. Maybe it was something we loved, maybe something terrible, or sorrowful. But it doesn’t exist any more. It’s a story we can tell, a story that might matter a lot, but it doesn’t exist any more.
What exists is you standing there. Life is you, in that prairie or desert or city or river or mountain pass. Life is you and those with you, in this moment. This moment now, not those drifting towards you or those floating behind.
I’ve found myself starting and trashing posts, finding them dumb or boring or unimportant. I’ve found myself starting to get wrapped around something, but realized it’s really just a bunch of bubbles. I’ll start to wonder why I think about something in a certain way, and realize that’s just bubbles — maybe even bubbles about bubbles. Obviously this does not make for a prolific blogger. 🙂 Maybe this is a temporary thing, maybe my life is just so quiet right now that I don’t have all that much to say. I’m still here, still doing all my lovely things, tending to the people I adore, working, doing yoga, making and eating delicious food, reading, walking. I hope the bubbles floating toward you land softly on your face. xoxo
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