doing it when it doesn’t come easy

My trip to NYC was just wonderful, and I’m so so glad I can go anytime I want, again — we walked in the park for hours, we did a lot of stuff for Heaventree, we had dinner with my stepdaughter Anna, who is about to move to London (at Awash, my favorite Ethiopian restaurant which is also in our neighborhood luckily), and we went to a concert Saturday night in Riverside Park. The Clay Tennis Court Association presents a concert series every summer on the hillside near the tennis courts, and every summer the line-up is the same, rotating through all kinds of music. Last Saturday it was Efendi, a small ensemble that plays music from the Middle East (and they pull Greece into that zone). The band comprises a clarinet, an oud, an electric guitar, and percussion instruments, and the oud player also sings.

This is Dorit — not my photo obviously; the audience faces into the sunset, so quite often the musicians and dancers were in silhouette. But isn’t she beautiful?

Every year they also bring in a gorgeous belly dancer, Dorit. Partway through the performance her students join her, and I’m telling you: it is mindblowingly gorgeous to watch them. They are mostly middle-aged and older (one woman was probably in her 80s), they are representative of NYC (a Chinese woman, a Vietnamese, a Ghanaian, an Israeli, and a variety of others), and their bodies are all sizes. And every single one of them dances like she is the most beautiful woman in the world . . . and so they are. It doesn’t matter how large their bellies might be, or how skinny, the women dance. In the last 20 minutes of the concert, the teacher asked the audience to stand up and she taught everyone how to dance, beginning with the most accessible moves — the hands, twisting and spiraling, and raising above heads. And as I looked around at the smiling audience, I could see that all of them felt beautiful, too. Honestly, this makes me cry every single year.

Several minutes later the sky became a neon pink and orange — almost lurid — but it started here, just a lozenge of color tucked under the George Washington Bridge. I love the path along the Hudson, with the streetlights and people walking, biking, talking, laughing.

It was also glorious to see the sunset again, which I miss here at Heaventree. Even when I just drive away from my house, down to the post office, I get more of a vista (though still not sunsets; I’d have to drive up the mountain to see that, I guess). I do miss sunsets, so I’ll just have to soak them up every time I’m in the city. Driving to NYC, I felt such a pleasure dropping down, down, down, down, from the elevation of the Catskills (my elevation is only 1,330 feet), down to the Hudson River, and then further down, down, down to the sea level of NYC. I love anything that wakes up my awareness to living on this planet, to the planet-ness of my life. I probably won’t go back to the city until the last weekend of August, in part because we are going to be painting this weekend and next weekend preparing for the carpet installation the following Monday — plus, I want to be up here in this remote area for the Perseid meteor shower, which is supposed to be magnificent this year.

To the point of the post’s title: doing it even when it doesn’t come easy. When I changed my life a few years ago with mindfulness and yoga, it was mysteriously easy. Mindfulness slid me into more changes than I set out to make. Mindfulness brought me into so many different ways of living, and it also helped me lose a lot of weight. I started at 155, and at my lowest I was 126 (which everyone assures me is way too low for my 5’10” height). I definitely wanted to lose some weight, but that’s not where I started. I started from a place of hating all the chaos of my mind and attention, of hating feeling shattered and fragmented, from wanting stillness, and from deciding just to do one thing at a time. And the rest just slid into place. Yoga slid right in there, and with almost no exceptions (none I can recall), it was always a pleasure and easy to head toward the mat. It was always easy to stay present there.

It still isn’t easy, this go-round. It’s not. It’s not getting easier, either. I force myself to go unroll the mat. I force myself to queue up a class. I force myself to stay sitting there. I have to play tricks on myself to remain present, which mostly means putting my phone upstairs and turning off the bluetooth speaker downstairs that connects to my phone, so I don’t hear any notifications. Today is the 17th day, and it’s no easier than it was the first day. Doing one thing at a time is no easier, and it has not been easy at any moment. My mind is no quieter. For some reason I have hung onto an image from one of the Carlos Castaneda books — that the great Raven plucks out a spirit from the vast circle of them spinning around, flying in a chaos of noise. That image feels so much like my mind, still.

Eating well has gotten easier, at least. I’ve lost 7.5 pounds since I started, which means I also get to put away the sole larger pair of jeans I’d kept because they are now too big. That feels so great. My body is feeling better in terms of feeling it — the bulk hangs around my hips and stomach, and there being less bulk just feels better. My chest is going down again too, so my bras fit better and it’s easier to sleep. I feel like I’m slipping out of my terror body, the heavy one I race to when I feel under threat, so that also makes me feel like I must be feeling less threat. Drinking my green smoothie every morning is a little easier, although it’s less good than it was in Austin, when I had an abundance of frozen fresh peaches from HEB. They just aren’t available here, so it lacks that emerald shade of green and the slight tartness that the peaches added, but I’ll adjust to that.

But I persist. It is not easy yet. It’s still not easy. It’s still not quiet, and in fact it doesn’t feel ANY quieter, yet. But I believe it will come if I keep at it, and so I do.

Onward. xoxox

is it always just Groundhog Day?

So many crossing, parallel lines, so many coming-back-tos, it can be dizzying once you start noticing them. When I left New York in November, 2012, after a couple of weeks in Austin I had to fly back to NYC to pack up my books and ship them to Austin. I was sorry to leave my cozy new place that was still in pupa form, really, not fully created, not fully settled, not all the way mine yet, to return to a painful place that I had painfully left.

The emotion isn’t the same, at all, but I’ve been here a couple of weeks and today I fly back to Austin to retrieve my car — and I’m sorry to leave my cozy new place that is still in pupa form, really, not fully created, not fully settled, not all the way mine yet. The only difference is that I didn’t painfully leave Austin, except for the pain of parting.

And most disappointing, I’m only going to be in Austin for one full day (with a night on either side) and I won’t have a spare moment to see any of my beloveds except for Katie and family….so grateful to see them of course, and to spend as many hours with them, with Lucy and Oliver, as I possibly can. I am sorry I won’t get to see friends, and I will hold space the next time I come to Austin for a get-together. Since I just made the 2000-mile trip, making it again is just kind of mind-numbing, so I’m taking a different route for two reasons: first, to take a different route because for heaven’s sake; and second, to make a pit stop in Chicago to see Marnie and family, which will allow me to soak up a little Ilan and break the trip in half. All in all I will be gone a week, arriving late on Monday night back at Heaventree.

I’m sad to leave this beautiful place so quickly, and I’m so looking forward to hugging and kissing and soaking up babies, and to seeing my daughters and their husbands, and to spending one night with my dear Dixie, and to seeing a different part of the country — up and over to the right, instead of across to the right and then up. But then, when I finally make it back home, all my stuff will be in one place. Whatever I want, it will be available. There’s still some stuff at the apartment in the city, my big Nikon camera and a bunch of baking gear, but Marc will bring that or I’ll fetch it at an upcoming trip. My stepdaughter is coming to the city at the end of July so I’ll drive down for that weekend.

But y’all. Home. Quiet, beautiful home. Since I learned I would be moving here, I started following as many Catskills-related Instagram and FB pages as I could find, and yesterday a caption on an IG photo talked about how lucky the person feels to live in such a beautiful place — still, after all these years — even though it isn’t always an easy place to live. And it isn’t, I can tell already, for all kinds of reasons. I don’t even yet know what winter is going to be like, and I feel all Game of Thrones-ish about it (Winter is coming!!!!). I mean, if you do a Google Image search for ‘winter in the Catskills, you get shots like this, and I somehow think it’s gonna be harder than this great picture suggests:

oh sure, snowshoeing is going to be lots of fun!

So today is fly day, and I remember that other fly day when my heart was crushed and my bones felt too heavy to keep moving, and I’m so grateful that today my heart is light and my bones are eager to fly, even though I will miss my sweet home.

* * *

A couple of PS points:

  • Thank you for your extraordinary kindnesses to me in response to my last post. I wasn’t expecting it, for some reason, even though I know you are always so kind and generous to me. Maybe the “Lori who?” made me feel so small and invisible that I had forgotten that others know me. I don’t know. Anyway. Thank you for all the love and beautiful words (that I insist mean much more about who you are than who I am), and for the big-hearted and very wise advice I got. I’m OK. It’s not echoing in my heart any more. xoxoxox
  • SO! You know how I’ve talked about bears up here, but I hadn’t seen one yet.  There is a house at the tail end of the private road I’m on, and we were invited to a picnic there on Saturday, something they organize every year. It was nice to meet them (excellent politics one and all, including some old red diaper baby connections). At the moment they are just here on weekends, but in a year or so they’ll be moving here permanently. They have a webcam on their house and they frequently catch wildlife on it, including this great shot of “the local big fella”:
a couple of weeks ago, right before we moved in! COME BACK, BIG FELLA!

I won’t be posting anywhere until I get back to Heaventree, but I’ll be around FB and IG once in a while, probably with pictures of grandbabies and daughters, knowing me. You know. 🙂


three things: mirrors, growing, and zen

FEED: When my little family and I lived in New Britain, CT almost 30 years ago, in what was clearly the ghetto part of that otherwise-rich place, I got a chance to get away for a bit. We had three tiny kids at the time, all under the age of 5, and we were planning to move to Virginia. My then-husband had already been there scouting places to rent, and he suggested that I go, that he would stay with our kids.

even after driving over that bridge hundreds of times, the view of Manhattan never fails to take my breath away

This was such a glorious thing—just me, after such terrible hardship, a solo road trip (and I adore road trips). And not only that, I would drive through New York City for the first time in my life. I left around 4am, I think, and as I came down through the scary (to me then, and in the dark) Bronx and went over the beautiful George Washington Bridge, with all of Manhattan spreading out to my left, this song came on the radio.

It was popular at the time and I really loved it, and I think it probably came on the radio a dozen times on the 6.5-hour drive, or at least it felt that way. So even now, when I hear the song I just get filled with the same soaring sense of freedom, and the lyrics poke at me too. If you wanna make the world a better place, you’ve got to look at yourself and make a change. Lots to think about there. But at the moment I am just being fed by the beat and urgency of the song, and by the memories it holds for me.

SEED: Over the last couple of very easy years of my life, I’ve often written about feeling the complacency of it, and about wanting to use that easy time to challenge myself, to get out of my comfort zone, maybe to learn something new.

Well. Then the presidential campaign came along and all that ease went away, and now the fact that he’s in office and trying to destroy everything — no more complacency here, or anywhere else. As it all started unfolding, I often felt so many levels of terrible, including some inner levels, some frustration and personal hopelessness: I don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to do anything about any of this! I’m not an organizer! I don’t know anything about lobbying, I don’t know how to do any of this! I don’t know how the details of the government work! How can I / what do I / where do I / I can’t!

At one of the marches a speaker said something about this, that it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to do, learn how to do it. It’s all learnable. Dig in, investigate, read, ask, poke around, assume roles, make things happen! I had to keep reminding myself of that because it’s not my instinct at all. Hell, after I had already made a sophisticated quilt by hand I thought I didn’t know how to quilt so I took a beginner’s quilting class. THAT IS SO ME.

It has been very frustrating, having all those feelings going on at the same time the frustration and fears about what was happening in the government were so overwhelming. It was just too much, too many sources of fear and upset, and yet there was nothing to do but keep flailing in the muck.

Yesterday I realized that I’ve learned a lot. I have really gotten somewhere with how to do these things. It’s less confusing, it’s less impossible-feeling. I have yet to organize a march, and still wouldn’t even know how to begin, but I do now know that I could figure it out. My understanding of things has become more sophisticated. I’ve paid attention somehow, in the midst of all the overwhelm.

And so this terribleness was also an opportunity, as terribleness usually is. And I guess the other thing about terribleness opportunities is that no matter how many times you go through that process, the terribleness feels so terrible that you can’t remember the opportunity part. That’s true for me, anyway. I’m by no means anywhere with it except to say that I’ve noticed the opportunity of it now. There is a very real ALIVENESS to being confused, to doing something new, to having to figure out a new language and new modes and slowly seeing that you have changed as a result.

READ: My friend George gave me a daily Zen calendar for Christmas — the only Christmas gift I received, actually — and as I pulled off all the days’ pages that passed while I was in NYC, two caught my attention:

“Nothing is more real than nothing.” ~Samuel Beckett

“Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere.” ~Bill Murray

That Beckett is so Beckett, right? It’s the kind of thing you can say to yourself and then pause to see what it means and then just get kind of lost. Is nothing real? Is there a realness to nothing? AAARGH! And I don’t know if the second quote is by that Bill Murray, but doesn’t it just give you a sense of calm?

I’m off to babysit wee Lucy this morning, so my day is off to a great start, and I hope you have something wonderful in your day too. xoxox

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
click the image to head to the blog
ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

on root

When you are reading this, I’ll be heading to New York — a long day of travel door to door, and a move from a 71-degree day to a 48-degree day. Next week, some days have highs below freezing. OH BOY. Here’s a picture my husband took last week of the end of his block by Riverside Park.

UGH. Note the ugly dark piles.
UGH. Note the ugly dark piles.

It wasn’t a black and white photo, and he didn’t run it through a filter. Apparently it just looked like that. But I have a lot of great things ahead in the coming week, people, places, things to do, so perhaps those things will shine enough light to keep my spirits up in the cold, dark, filthy winter. Poor y’all who are suffering through this vortexing winter.

Yesterday I had lunch with my graduate advisor, Jamie; I have not seen him since I came back to Austin. It was the best time I ever had with him, probably because I was not wound up with anxiety about talking to him. The anxiety was always all mine, he’s very low-key and perhaps the least neurotic person the world has ever seen. He shrugs, he understands, he doesn’t get wound up about things. So was relaxed and able to simply enjoy talking to a very smart man I’ve known since 1998. We talked about our families, books we’ve read (he also loved The Orphan Master’s Son), we talked about various experiences we’ve had, we talked about the thing that’s happening to me in the background, we talked about ideas.  We decided that I am the poster child for resilience. We agreed that temperament is more important than anyone believes. It was so very lovely — even though it was a space in an otherwise-stressful chaotic day. OY.

When I was in graduate school, I remember one brief exchange with him very clearly. I was telling him that I believed I was better than I’d ever been before, and he said that he imagines I always feel that way. I remember it because it startled me — and he was right. I do always think that, but don’t you? When I’m in the midst of big trouble, I may be in a segment of my life that’s worse than x, y, or z, but I generally come to believe that it made me better than I’d ever been before.

The final chapter of The Goldfinch is strange, not entirely successful, and kind of full of sentences and passages that are surely destined to be stuck on pictures of sunsets or kittens and fly through Facebook feeds. But some of those pre-destined sentences echo some of my own feelings, and so those I feel kindly toward. I’m like that. Here’s one:

That life—whatever else it is—is short. That fate is cruel but maybe not random. That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it. That maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open. And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.

Amen. It is a glory and a privilege to be here, every damn day. When I was talking to Jamie at lunch, we were talking about the terrible thing that’s going on for me right now and I said (and believe) that one day it will be behind me, it will have ended however it ends, I will be OK and different because of the experience, and it will just be a strange story to tell from my strange and long life. I’d rather it weren’t happening (SERIOUSLY, I WOULD), and when it’s all inflamed it’s impossible for me to feel like it’s a privilege to get to be going through it (because I am not insane), but it does not make me want my life to end. I’m too curious about what tomorrow will bring, and if it’s more crap then perhaps the next day. Or the next one. Or the next one.

I’m not saying this because of any premonition (mine are always wrong, anyway), but if death finds me before I write again, I have so loved my life. I hope to love it for decades to come. I’m grateful for it all, and for you who go through it with me. See you later, from another zip code.

flyaway day!

Today I fly back to New York City for a few days. I’ve been so holed-up here in the palace, so busy getting it set up (doing all that shopping, ugh), so busy getting work done, I don’t really feel like I’ve been in Austin so the idea of “leaving Austin” makes little sense. I’m flying back for a couple of reasons: 1) to pack up all my books and few belongings (I only took my clothes when I left), and 2) to attend a party given by my friends Temma and Yvonne, so I’d have a chance to say goodbye to friends. It’s a tough time for a party, thick in the holiday season and on a Friday night to boot, an evening that was likely set aside for something else weeks or months ago, but I will be so happy to see any who can come.  (If you are in NYC and want to come, email me for details — see the about page for my email address.)

I probably won’t post while I’m there — way way too much going on, too many people to see and things to get done, and I need to do some work in any spare moments — but I’ll be back in Austin Monday night, the 17th, so I hope to be back to posting then.

In the meantime, I’ve been collecting some links and I thought I’d share them with you! That’s a good sign, right? I’m beginning to be interested in things again? Yeah? Feels good to me.

OK! With this, I close up Austin shop. Have a good few days, y’all; get some rest, eat something good, read something that moves you, talk to someone you love, and have some fun.

OK, 9/11

I hadn’t planned to write about 9/11 today, because I don’t have anything insightful to say, no mournful words, I didn’t live here then. It’s hard to avoid the memorials today here in New York; 10 blocks of Riverside Drive (where we park) are blocked off because the city is having a big memorial service at the Firemen’s Monument where they’ll be reading the names of the 343 firemen who died. Small petty me, I’m aggravated that it’s nearly impossible to find a place to park the car. The sky is as brilliantly blue and clear as it was 11 years ago, I’m told.

On that day I was living in Austin, and attending graduate school at the University of Texas. I got to school early that morning because I was running an experiment. I was standing in the hallway, waiting for the participants to show up, when one of the professors ran into the hallway shouting that a plane flew into a building in New York. Of course we thought it was an accident. Then he ran out again and told us more, and we all went to his office in complete incomprehension.

As the news unfolded, and it became obvious that whoever was doing this was taking out symbolic targets — and as it just kept happening, now here, now there, now there — we, like most people around the country I gather, believed we were next. After all, UT Austin is the biggest campus in the country, how’s that for symbolism. And even worse, one of GWBush’s daughters was a student there (the party girl, so she probably wasn’t even on campus not that it mattered). One plus one = we were surely next. Remember that, how we all thought we were next? We were sitting there waiting for it, wondering when it would come.

I was scheduled to teach my social psych class that afternoon, 3:30 (so 4:30 NYC time), and I sent out a message through my class network that students should come to class, we had a lot to talk about. The students sat in their chairs with gaping mouths and stunned faces, and none of us knew what to say. No one in my class had friends or family in Manhattan or the other locations so we weren’t dealing with that immediate fear. Just the disbelief and incomprehension of the incomprehensible act.

Though, of course, it was comprehensible. It’s still difficult to say what I believe, which is that our country’s politics set us up for it, that it was only a matter of time until our policies came home to roost. It’s hard to say that without sounding insensitive to the victims — I’m not, at all. What a horrific thing for them and their surviving loved ones, I can’t imagine their experiences without feeling the falling feeling in my stomach.