Sunday, December 14, 2008
Yes....I have a step counter. I'm not sure I mentioned that here. I'm wearing this bodybugg thing that measures your calorie burn and steps (which for the most part is not all that effective for me). The very accurate step counter IS motivating.
So. On the deck at the moment is my Christmas tree. It is a fake. I'm mildly morally opposed to fake Christmas trees, but I'm also very very aware of not pushing myself too hard. As a result, I went Christmas tree shopping yesterday, and came home not with the fresh smelling fir that I normally select, but with an artificial, pre-lit fir in a big box. I was trying to wrestle the damned thing into my Explorer in the parking lot when a nice guy nearby came and saved me. Probably he was laughing on the inside, but he was just plain helpful on the outside. And that experience made me smile, too.
Don't overcommit. That is my current motto. Choose. It's hard to do that everywhere, maybe hardest to do at work. At work there are so many competing needs, and I am relatively certain that those needs would not be equally prioritized by everyone who might want to vote. But...I still need to choose. And I am. In my personal life, choosing is clearer, if I stay mindful of the fact that a choice exists. Fancy dinner, or take that time to exercise? Read a book or watch a movie? Decorate for Christmas, or not? It is amazing how the awareness of choice calms me. Amazing.
My bellydance classes are now at the studio. We are putting together step combinations, not so much a scripted dance (though that will come, I am told) but step combinations that work. It's so very much fun. I find myself dancing all the time now, hearing the correct rhythm pattern in a song on my iPod and dancing - three-quarter shimmy to Melissa Etheridge, or Bryan Adams, or....well, almost anything. It is goooood.
But I digress. The studio classes are smaller, and that means more chitchat with the other dancers. The woman who knocked me down last week is 28, it turns out. She was surprised by my age, and the other (supertense!) woman standing nearby said "you don't have kids - and anyone who doesn't have kids has no idea how hard life can be." My eyebrows hit my hairline, and I opened my mouth but did not say anything. Supertense woman is an interesting case. She is in her 40's, married, very tense and her parents buy her things that she shows us - like her new Cadillac SUV. She is...unhappy. Visually, clearly and in every line of her body unhappy.
Her comment reminded me of a Thanksgiving I once spent with my friend Carol, her mother and her now-ex husband. I was in a great mood, and I was making everyone laugh. He was laughing as hard as anyone, but at some point he said - "only someone who is deeply unhappy can be as funny as you are." And I felt defensive, and then I felt sad for him. The truth is something else, I think. Difficult things happen to you, and you can choose to stretch your schema a bit. You can either shift your whole "potential for happiness" range down, to allow for the new bad thing that has happened to fit in your range, or you can stretch your range. In other words, if something that bad can happen, there must be an even higher high that can happen. That is what I believe. I think my earliest life, with parents who truly believed I could do anything (except sports!) and who made me believe it, too - that set me up to be the person I am. And, too, I am of the opinion that the experience of loss or hurt or pain can give you a fresh and sharp perspective on what is at risk, what you should celebrate having in your life. Nothing is permanent, everything changes. That hurts, and at the very same instant it reveals opportunity and joy in every tiny shift.
So, to that cranky now-ex-husband I say - I'm sorry that you could not believe sadness could transform someone into having a greater capacity for pure joy. To supertense woman I say - stretch a little and own some of your unhappiness, so that you can change it. To the charming 28-year-old-with-THREE-left feet I say - life will send you dificult things, deal with them and let them sharpen your appreciation of good things. And to the universe? I'm thankful that my experiences have made me perhaps sometimes-tired, but not bitter. I'm grateful that somehow, despite everything, the way I look seems to suggest to others that I've led a life without pain or loss.
So while it has been a very rough year for everyone, I am very very lucky in many ways. So while I'm decorating my well-lit and unscented Christmas tree, I'll light a "glistening snow" candle and practice some threequarter shimmies to Celtic harp music. I'll wish I could hug the people I love who are far away, and bake them brown sugar shortbread cookies, or other buttery delights. I'll send them good thoughts.
Hug 'em if you've got 'em. :)
Friday, December 5, 2008
- You feel as though your life is seriously out of sorts, but you can't find even an evening, or an afternoon, to sort it.
- The bookshelf has a stack of unread and promising titles, and you literally cannot choose one.
- You find yourself so frustrated that you well up.
- You can't remember the last time you didn't feel behind. Very behind.
What was important about this week? I accepted a few things that I cannot change. I made time to walk, and made moving my body a priority. I danced, and it was fabulous, and bought music for my Ipod so I can dance with abandon wherever I might be, whenever I care to. My black boots that were once too tight are now not. Yay. My shimmies are faster and more sure, and my egyptian basic steps are snappppy now that the swivel feels easy. Yay.
Last weekend I watched the Kurosawa film "Ran" - it's very interesting. It's a retelling of King Lear, in Japan, with amazing costumes and complicated, bloody battle scenes...and quieter, more chilling scenes of a scheming woman who brings the brothers to their deaths. The film feels long, but certainly worth the investment of minutes. What I am still thinking about, a week later, is the intense and impressive way that Kurosawa used colors - the scenes are saturated with the colors of the landscape, the uniforms of the armies, the blood of the fallen.
This week I went to the orthodontist to have him do impressions of my teeth. I have this gap, see. And of course, he sees other issues, and he wants to make my mouth perfect. Which would require two years of braces, probably. Ehh. I made him laugh (he reads literature! I quizzed him!) and by the end of the appointment he agreed that he would give me not two quotes/treatment options, but three. The right way, the maybe not so perfect but still clinically pretty great way, and "a twist and orthodontic bondo." See - I kind of like my gap. But I don't like that it has become crooked since one of my wisdom teeth was extracted. It should be interesting, both hearing the options and whether I go for it or not.
Have you ever had someone thoughtlessly hurt your feelings, unintentionally, and had a flash of shame that YOU had certainly done that to someone else at some point? Something in my personality makes people feel comfortable enough with me to let down their guard, and let me just say, sometimes that's not all that great for ME. With some people, I'd like to see that guard stay up. High. Because the things that come out of their mouths make me like them less, or make me like me less, or make me like the reality of my life less - well, you see the pattern. For some reason, I do not always kick those people out of my life. Do I keep them around to remind me to be careful with the feelings of others? I truly do not know. But I'm not sure that it's a healthy habit.
It seems to me that my criteria for allowing people into my life is skewed, that I need to rethink the process I use to decide who will be invited into my life, to gift with my time and care. Basic "niceness" aside, these are essentially decisions about how we spend our lives. Those decisions should be active - people I choose to give my minutes should be selected, the way I once decided actively how to spend my days at work, and after. The people who only take, who remember to give only when prompted, who are too insecure or greedy to give until they get - they may be familiar personalities to me, but they are not good for me. Not at all.
The clarity of that realization was my gift this week. Something in the way Kurosawa aimed his camera, the unblinking and relentless view of truth - it reminded me that not looking is a decision we can't afford to make. Clearing the fog, recognizing the truly required and what only clamors to be so - that was my gift.
Have I mentioned that it was a brutal week?
This weekend is going to be one to recharge and regroup. Wish me luck!
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I finished readng the Ondaatje novel Divisadero this morning. It reminded me of some things. That fictional memories, to feel true, have to be about some small moment that surprises us and feel real, if inexplicable. Plot turns on big moments, but people are created in small ones on the page. I forget that, and remember it, and forget it again. My own natural voice is for the vivid small moments, my stories contructed around wafer-thin plots. I am picking apart the Ondaatje in my head, determining how he moved the story lines forward without having his plot obliterate the small lovely moments he renders.
It feels pretty fabulous to be thinking about plot. Whew.
It would have been nice to take the long weekend, but instead I worked yesterday and finished some things that I wanted to. Not as many as I would have liked. I'll likely do some work tonight, or possibly tomorrow. Here is the thing: there are not only too many priorities in my life (writing, working, household minutiae, working, dancing, weight loss....did I mention working?) but there are too many priorities within each category. The number of priorities I'm juggling in my job is becoming a source of almost-hilarity - or is that hysteria? But if I can nudge a few of them forward this weekend, maybe sometime soon I can hand a couple over to someone ELSE. Yay. Here is the other thing: if you are good at juggling priorities, it seems to me that someone is always willing to hand you a couple more. It's like watching a juggler with three balls in the air - don't you feel almost compelled to say, "can you add one more?!" There is something odd in that impulse, isn't there? Something like rubbernecking at an accident scene. And the truth is, only the juggler can say "nope, three's my limit."
Yes, I'm aware that I don't say "nope..." very often. So shoot me. Or give me a megaphone. :)
This year the holidays will be a season of reflection and celebration for many of us, with more of an emphasis on reflection than we often manage. That's my prediction, anyway. It seems to me that the world can't help but benefit from that. I was thinking this morning about the idea of writing as an act of hope, about the question of whether the work of writing stories is "important enough" to be a life calling. And then I read the Ondaatje, and remembered why I love books. He quotes Nietzsche. "We have art so that we shall not be destroyed by the truth." It is art's expression of hope, of shared experience, an empathetic connection across miles and ages and lives - that's the magic, for me. Anna, arguably the heroine of the novel, goes on to say that "A paragraph or an episode from another era will haunt us in the night, as the words of a stranger can."
I am not often haunted in the night. Some who know me best might say that I make myself too busy, drive myself too hard, so that I will not be. Meh. I simply think some are haunted, while others accept and move on; it is a behavior driven by some quirk of personality, or some unmapped fold in the brain that houses a cluster of neurons devoted to such work. So while Anna is haunted, I am merely endlessly fascinated by the intersection of life episodes, and what they mean. I'm fascinated by the tricks of fate that cause some people's lives to be more heavily burdened with loss and difficulty than others. Ye olde questions of fate versus free will versus divine intervention. To quote that other great artist, Bryan Adams (come on, I can't always be quoting novelists and big thinkers!), "some get the silver spoon, some get the heavy load." Indeed. I think the haunted souls often focus on the question of why this is true, while those who are more resilient perhaps focus more on now what? It's a continuum, not a category.
There are so many expressions of hope that go unnoticed, while we seize on the expressions of fear and bitterness that we feel "typify" our world. I'm trying hard to keep my eye on the quiet, small expressions of hope. The fact that on a cold dreary day in November, you can still find a few dozen people at the Food Bank, sorting donated goods onto shelves. The fact that resilience is still celebrated in our world. And, yes, the fact that novelists, essayists, poets and short story writers keep writing, and keep sending us their artful expression of the world, despite the obstacles between their conception and any hope of publication.
Be well, and of good cheer as we enter the madness of this season.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
This weekend my bellydance teacher hosted her annual festival called "Hafla" - this year is her 30th. My friend Maureen and I girled up and went to the dance showcase last night. It was scheduled to be 4 hours long, though we left after about 2.5. But...wow. It was fun. The performers are anywhere from just-past-beginner to women who have danced and performed for years, and that mixture made it even more fun. There were different styles of bellydance, from the quieter traditional dancers who wear full length dresses adorned in sparkling embroidery and layers of veils, to very modern and athletic dancers who combined bellydance with moves that looked a lot like synchronized swimming. Bling everywhere, of course - sequins, coins, beads, jewelry, headpieces, feathers, amazing swirls of colors and metal and sound. It was fabulously raucous, and just what I needed.
I've had this conversation running through my head, on a slow repeat, for the last week or so. It was a talk I had with a friend, someone who is a bit stuck because he can't quite forgive someone in his life for a terrible thing that was done to him. He said "forgiving and forgetting is just a little too easy on her." And I said...well, I don't actually think that forgiving and forgetting is the critical step. It's accepting and moving on that we need to accomplish, letting go of the anger and the "iwishthathadn'thappened" so we can get to the next thing that will come into our lives, and be prepared to accept that gift.
So last night, while I was sitting at the Hafla, I was of course thinking about body image and the beauty of women's bodies, the celebration of fertility and life force that the dancers bring to the stage, knowingly and unconsciously. The movements of bellydance, the joyously high-energy shimmy, the deliberate undulations, the powerful hip snapping turns - they are about life, all the variations. It's part of why the movements feel right, and part of why the form is so addictive. Watching all these women on stage, their imperfections out there for the world to see, framed in fact by bling and shimmying hips and sinuous arm movements....well, a lot of those women have done the magic thing, accepted and moved on. Imperfect, but glorious.
And I found the moment that I need to describe to my friend, to tell him why it's important to accept and move on. It was a tall, elegant, dancer with perfect porcelain white skin and a shimmering costume in white, at least 40 years old, and her bio included this information "...I had let myself be convinced that I could not dance, though I always wanted to. Practicing bellydance showed me otherwise." This dancer, Deborah, had a dance that involved a sword balanced on her head while she shimmied, grapevined, turned, sunk slowly and gracefully to the floor and snaked upward again....and the absolute triumph on her face while that sword stayed on her head, swaying but sticking - that's the reason we accept and move on.
We can't simultaneously serve the past and reach for the future. There was some moment that Deborah stopped listening to the voice in her head saying "you can't dance" and started listening to a voice that said "swords are awesome..." Accepting doesn't mean agreeing, or forgiving - it means we've stopped letting the sting of whatever it is, the pain or hurt or self-doubt of it, shape our days. Put it away - the failure, the injustice, the mistake, the hurtful words we can't stop hearing - and accept that the thing happened or was said and move on. Let it go. We hold on to old hurts, and old tapes, and old...well, stuff. We let it define us, because it's a pain in the ass to question everything all the time, and it's sometimes scary to consider what changes we would need to make if we accepted AND moved on. We choose to be defined by it.
So let go of one of your old hurts, or mistakes, and move on. Imagine all possibilities, and choose one that sings to you. If it is too scary to do that for your whole life TODAY, then do it for today. Find joy in the choosing. Revel in your beautiful perfection of self and reach for something bigger.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I had a very frustrating day on Thursday of this week. So, being me, I lowtalked my way out of the room and then let the dust settle so I could think about what had frustrated me to the point of anger. It was several things, as so often is the case. Fatigue being chief among them.
Here is what I'm thinking today, safe in my quiet home office with my tankard of french press coffee and dressed for a hike in the gorgeous fall day: it should, at some point, stop surprising me that I'm both drawn to and battered by the same things. I love to be in high energy environments, but I throw myself into things so wholly that it is also a teensy bit dangerous for me to live/work in them unless I am mindful to maintain balance. That's what lowtalking is - a way to make the energy of a situation balance itself. Too much heat, too much vehemence, too much volume - I am not wired to retreat, exactly, but I am also not wired to throw gasoline onto the fire by raising my own voice. Choices.
When I worked at the medical center, there was a time when they brought in a consutant to work with the management teams, which at that time were crazily dysfunctional. We went to a Catholic retreat center in town, which was serene and lovely. There were tears, and shouting. And this consultant then used the concepts of Chinese elemental healing to talk about what was going on. She explained that the elements (metal, fire, earth, water and wood, as I recall) each had important characteristics that were necessary to balance the earth, and that she believed communication/interaction styles could be organized in the same way. Everyone has a mixture of elements, but usually one predominant one and another that is secondary. Metal energy is strong, but lacks flexibility. Water energy soothes and buoys. Earth energy grounds everything, it's the foundation on which everything is built.
Fire energy, though...that was the one we talked about most. Fire energy is warm, inviting, attractive - and it can burn if out of balance. Fire energy is what we often admire and are drawn to, but get too much fire and you lose focus and feel frenzied instead of focused. And, for many of us, the exposure to too much fire energy makes us retreat to some other place. It makes us try to cool the flames by pulling back our own fire energy and switching to something more like water, if we seek to calm, or metal if we seek to hold our ground. When it feels too rushed, too hurried, too emotional - we become slower, more deliberate, cool.
And - the important thing - all of this adjusting is fantastic if it is a choice, and tiring/demoralizing if it is a reaction.
So, what did I learn about myself this week? Hmmm. I have always been very comfortable leading without authority. I don't wait for a title or a crown or a podium. I can't endure milling about - so in the absence of a clear or logical leader, I get started making people talk to one another, make decisions, commit. Some mixture of crazy curiosity and an inability to solve a problem I don't understand means that I am often to be found in the weeds, asking a zillion questions until the issues seem clear. This is all good stuff, for the most part. But it needs to be a conscious choice - because it all costs a little effort.
It's better, today. It gave me both opportunity and motivation to speak frankly with one of the participants and it let me see more clearly how I am functioning in my current work role. It gave me the opportunity to hear from, and be heard by, at least three people that I admire, and value. It motivated me to use a made-up Hallmark holiday as an excuse to thank those people for being who they are. I'm hopeful that it will be the start of a longer conversation about the root issue, which is competing urgent priorities in a system of finite, scarce resources.
Let the difficult stuff illuminate who you are and what you value. I'm sure I read that somewhere, though I don't know where.
Be well, as we prepare to enter the season of thanks-giving.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Two big thoughts for tonight. I am writing again, and I love the way it calms my bee-buzzy brain to spend time thinking about prose rhythms and finding words for a scene, or a moment, that will make it possible for a reader to be pulled right into the story's page. I love it. And I love that thinking in that way makes me see connections in things.
Have you ever thought about the way that we use the phrase "good at putting spin on it" to describe someone who is a bit tooooo shiny, someone who might do well selling used Buicks? I don't think spin is inherently negative. To me, a lot of people who are good at spin are also optimists. The best optimists, and the best spin artists, are not people who do not see the risk or the downside, but who see the odds of achieving the upside as high enough to put some skin in the game. In other words, they think the thing they are saying is possible. They believe it is. I'm one of those people - I can put the best face on something only if I believe in it, and I always describe the ugly underbelly, too. I emphasize the pretty, but the ugly is real, so I have to acknowledge it.
It occurred to me today that this spin thing is not just coincident - it is actually an expression of optimism. Of course
With me so far?
And that brings me to a trickier connection. It seems to me that giving in to addiction is, often, an expression of pessimism. Giving in is the action of a person who can't see the possibility of beating the addiction. So it can be no surprise to anyone who reads this or knows me to hear that active addicts make me uneasy. Work addicts, food addicts, alcoholics, narcotics addicts, smokers who cough madly and still reach for their nicotine - it all seems so clearly a choice to me. I'm not judging, I swear. I'm not. It's just that, to me, it's a matter of choice and priority. And when an addiction doesn't get in your way, then sure - indulge. Have your coffee, or your sugary treats, or your favorite form of fried potato or WHATEVER it is that is keeping you from tipping over the boat and swimming for shore. But when that behavior starts to get in your way - when you are lying about it, hiding it, breaking promises because of it or when it feels like it is in charge of you - then you need to change it.
Just change it, eh? Just, what, snap your fingers? Poof, not doing that any more? Well, kinda. That's how change works. You try and try and try, and then tada, change happens. No magic wand, just choices and effort. Developing, or having, an addiction is a tough break, but not a knockout punch. Giving in to it will eventually result in a knockout, or a TKO, or...well, you get the picture. All of which is why people like me find it difficult to live with addiction. Because guess what? It's a choice for the person living next to it, too. Their choice is a kind of tacit complicity. For many, living next to an active addiction is like watching someone give up 100 times a day - excruciating.
So, is that view a controlling view? I think the answer to that is ALL in what you do with the realization. So long as you remain focused on making choices that have to do with your own behavior, and not bargaining to make choices for someone else - I think you're probably staying out of the red zone. The truth is that we are responsible for our own individual choices. If living next to an addiction makes you feel a part of it, then you have a choice to make.
If I were in Cameron's office, right about now is where he would be saying something like, "are you confusing addiction with compulsion?" and I would be saying something like, "end of the day - it doesn't matter to me because either is a choice." He'd be tapping a pencil on his hand or his desk, and I'd be hugging one knee to my chest and holding my ground, but NOT stubbornly. And I would be smiling, because to me having the choice is all I really need. Making choices is difficult, but being denied the right to choose is the crusher.
Hunh. Politics aren't enough to argue about this month, apparently? I want to throw addiction versus compulsion versus choosing and pessimism vs optimism into the fray? :D
Sunday, September 28, 2008
I am trying to sort through piles of mail, email and other neglected mess. In my email mailbox I found pictures of my uhm...what is the correct term for the son of my niece? Grand nephew? GACK. :) Let's call him Gavigan the beautiful baby and leave it at that. Rumor had it when Gavigan was born that he was going to have brown eyes...but wow, he's got Newman blues.
I spent Saturday NOT working, after a series of weeks and weekends with more work than I'd like. Someone I like and respect very much described me as a workaholic on Friday, and the word surprised me. I'm not, as most people know. I am a person who hates to disappoint those I work with, and who is a perfectionist - and a dreamer. But I had to admit that from his shoes, I probably look like a workaholic. Interesting. So on Saturday I walked, and practiced a new belly dance step (just one, yes, that's why I can DO bellydance, it's the same steps over and over...) to the Robert Plant and Allison Krauss song "Fortune Teller" - fun. Also watched some movies and generally just chilled. Today I'm gearing up for a long bike ride in the beautiful fall air.
One of my friends recently said, with much alarm in her voice, that she didn't want to see me paint myself into a corner. Which is sort of funny to me - despite her great intentions. Painting oneself into a corner is the act of making a decision that limits options. More than anything, my experience is that life paints you into the corner, not that it is a series of reasoned decisions. You make the best decision you can in the moment, start painting, and then poof - life throws a bucket of paint over your escape route. It's just how the world works.
Also, like a lot of perceptions - the phrase implies, somehow, a permanent state. It implies that if we make decisions that paint us into a corner, we'll somehow be marooned there. And what is the truth? If we paint ourselves into a corner we have two options - wait for the paint to dry and walk calmly back to where we started, or walk on wet paint and deal with the mess that will create, and the rework. Either are a choice, one we can make actively. And choices can be unmade, and rethought, and...well, you know the drill. What we all hope for is some crazy escape door to appear, but most of the time it's a decision and not an escape.
Some people find the thought of waiting for the paint to dry impossible, but I am not one of them. In part, that's because I'm very aware of the mess that walking on the wet paint will create, and I'm quite sure I'll likely be the one who cleans it up. But my patience sometimes surprises people who know me, who see my impatience with minutiae and think it extends to bigger questions. Nope. Bigger things create bigger messes if quickly reversed, so about big things, I can wait. I can. I do. I've learned how. I've learned to wait out my first response and make sure it is real, and true. What I'm not good at is recognizing that when painted into that corner, I could choose to walk on the wet paint, pull the "undo" ripcord and try again right this very minute. Every day we choose. Every hour. That is a freeing thought. I'm filing it under MacGyver move number 7.
My friend Al recently had a story publication in a journal that we all admire (see it here). I'm thrilled for him. But like all writers, my thoughts turned immediately to what I'm not doing with my own work. Al's success is related to what he (and his wife) have done to make his writing a priority. I'm painted into a corner on this one - if other things in my life demand to be priorities, how do I choose between two important priorities. Let's just say...my physical health and writing? I don't know. It seems maybe the lens should fall on the other things that are demanding center stage. My work, demands on me at home. I say writing is a priority, I once said THE priority, but...I don't make it so, and that is something I can change so long as I'm aware that it may create a mess when I walk on the wet paint between me and the point where I can reframe that decision.
Some lucky, gifted souls are successful in what we choose to make a priority. And of course, everything can't be a priority in our lives. I can pack a lot into my days, but it is not possible to pack everything I want to have, everything I'd like to do, into the hours I'm allotted. So I need to choose. We all do. We all are choosing. Choose mindfully.
Friday, August 29, 2008
For those of you who hear from me sporadically...I'm good! Working too much, taking care of myself, reading too little and writing only in smidges...but I am well. Also - Cameron-the-Counselor is forgiven. Put away your tiny voodoo dolls, and your spell-casting gear, and your novena cards and candles. He misspoke, or I overreacted, or somewhere in the middle. Group hug.
This year my birthday week officially started on Wednesday, THE day. I had singing wishes, cards, email, e-cards, poems...the gamut of good wishes. I loved it. We spent the evening at the outdoor Shakespeare theater here watching this season's production of Macbeth. It was....lovely. We brought a potluck picnic that had perfect components - two lovely salads, grilled prawns, amazing cheese and bread, much great wine. And then cake. Yay. The performance was memorable, too. This is the theater: http://www.idahoshakespeare.org/theater_info/experience.html - though this picture is taken in the daytime, and as dusk falls it is more lovely and intimate. All in all....lovely.
I love fall. Some people feel their pulse and "get organized" impulses on January 1, some feel them when spring's warmth begins to seep into the gray chill of late winter. But for me - it's the new school year feeling, the one where anything is possible, and summer's long days make life feel limitless. Also, frankly, I live in a desert climate but I am genetically predisposed to misty cool moors, and green spaces - so the brown, sharp, HOT summers of southwestern Idaho are sometimes a joy to leave behind. My bike goes faster in the cooling days of late summer and fall, and my feet are easier to hurry on my walks. I love it. Time for cookouts and friends on the deck, now that the heat is easing.
This is a quick picture I took last night while on an evening bike ride. It was taken from the bikepath's converted railroad bridge over the Boise River near downtown. It is the place where a spur on the bike path crosses the river and heads into the city, out of downtown. What you can't see in the picture is that there were divers in the river last night, practicing, and I saw an eagle while riding. Had I taken the picture looking downstream, you'd have seen the overpass just a few hundred feet away, arcing over the river. All these interesting intersections of....everything. Angled metal meeting concrete bridge decking, water meeting shorelines, sky meeting mountain ridges, nature meeting city.
In January I posted about my annoyance at the naysayers who were raining on the big dreams (also known as resolutions) we make. Fall has always been my New Year. I've always loved the return to classes and the cooling, shortening days. I'm making lists and setting goals and buying a daily calendar to write things in. I'm cleaning and organizing email, cleaning cabinets and tossing clothes that are too big into bins to donate. I'm trying to decide whether I want to try backpacking or kayaking this year. And while I do all that, I have been thinking about dreams, how difficult it is to hold them when we know how much it will cost, in effort and sacrifice and sometimes conflict with those we love, to chase them. And still. And still it is impossible for me to say 'ease up, and let go.' I can't, or I won't, and the difference in those two words doesn't much matter. Hang on, and make them a priority, and remember that you'll probably regret those decisions and choices you make in service to fear, and not those you make chasing joy.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
We got here late on Friday night. I arrived home from work Thursday fully aware that the list of tasks I had assigned the vacation-fairy on Wednesday (that's me, I just like to pretend I have minions) remained undone. Some laundry, banking, all the packing, load the car, shop for essentials and a few treats for our fabulous housesitter....choose vacation books! I also added roasting a chicken (Road Picnic!!!!) and trying to fix the "broke-at-the-last-minute-Weber-grill"....
I make fewer lists than I used to. I am less well prepared than I once was. I am clear, crystal clear, that preparation has limits and that it can replace joyous improvisation, or provide a false sense of security about the world and our ability to knot up a safety net. I only make lists now when it is to capture a detail that is important (roast chicken Thursday night for picnic!), not because I think a trip will be ruined if I forget my copy of "Oregon for the Curious" or my nail care gear. Here is how I pack now: I have a travel bag of toiletries that I just toss in, and then I just walk around my closet and pick up clothes. It takes me literally 15 minutes, 8 of them spent wrestling the suitcase down and choosing shoes. Whatever you choose, you'll wish for some one other item. Whatever you do to prepare, the world will toss some unprepare-able action your way. Some will read that statement as cynical, or negative - and some will see that it is merely true, and that the acknowledgement of it, the acceptance of it, is a path to joy.
So we're here, and I've walked and walked, ridden my bike to the top of the Yaquina Bay Bridge (SO glad I brought my bike), read two books and several magazines....napped a LOT.
The sound of surf calms me, as I think it does many people. It makes me think clearly. Here is what I'm thinking clearly about this evening. My last conversation with Cameron-the-Counselor was, to me, unhelpful. He is pressing me to accept my life, to limit my dreams, or to "accept my limits." I know why. I look at me as he would and think "give yourself a break, already - in fact, give everyone around you a break and let UP." And I appreciate, sort of, that thought. Thank you, I'm sure your heart is in the right place. But since I'm me...I've an opinion. It is one thing to be sure that a person sees the limits, knows the odds, is aware of what they are up against. But whether to take them on is an achingly person decision. So, say to me "you know the challenges, right?" but not "accept your limits." From...well, forever, I've been refusing to accept limits. Why on earth would I start now? Because it's easier? Pfft. It's easier to limit our dreams. It is easier to stay home. It is easier to drift through your career, numb yourself with TV and purchases and investments. It's easier to grow fat and unfit and "accept your over-40 limits." Yeah, this advice hit a nerve. It's maybe smarter, certainly it is less turbulent. But I want to say to him "did you forget your give-a-crap tie today?" I'm not interested in advice to limit my dreams - until it is proven to be impossible, get the hell out of my way. I'm not an idiot, so I know that I have to keep making make small, necessary adjustments. But I'm a long way from accepting my frigging limits. Maybe this is what he intended, to kickstart my "kissmybuttkusCameron" motor - if so, it worked.
One of the books I brought, and am reading slowly in small sips, is Tony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome. To read Tony's books is to know something of him, of the smart, generous, funny, careful person that I watched lead one of my fiction workshops. His work continues to delight me, and to be a distinctive and lovely mixture, a marvel of craft and heart and science, truths of the kind that can be researched and the kind that can only be felt. One of the lines in this book caught me, though, both in the offhand delivery and in the truth of it: "We came to Rome because we'd always regret it if we didn't, because every timidity eventually turns into regret."
It is true, I think, that when we pull out the moments we regret, and turn them over honestly, that they are often entangled in moments of timidity, in snarls of self-doubt and fears of unnamed origins. But I suppose it is something of my Scottish roots, or maybe my life experiences, that makes me achingly aware of how much the expression of fear, of timidity, is rooted not in some weakness of character but in the bruising and "lessons learned" from the world's blows. More, I wonder at those who are able to keep it at bay, who get knocked down, stand up, and somehow keep the fear at arm's length. I've long said that I admire most those who are knocked down but get up again. That, for me, is the test. Will you get up, and will you do so with your hope somehow still intact? It's what we hope for in our heroes, and in our secret hearts it is what we hope for in ourselves, and fear we will not do.
So, yes. You can't write something like that sentence, or read of Tony and Shauna and their babies in Rome, or think of the sacrifices my friends are making to make the space to create their art without being humbled, and without grinning. Okay, Ms. Patti. From the top, this time with feeling...give it a little something and make it sweet.
Be well, wherever this finds you!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
I'm the oddity, I always thought. My childhood memories divided equally between the utter solitude of a book and the crazily noisy, social world of "them" - my immediate and extended family, the ones who had weekend-long parties and played music all night long and ate huge breakfasts in long, pork-filled shifts to fit everyone in. I loved the parties, learned to do Lily Tomlin impressions to make my mother laugh, and to be the center of attention. I felt most at home, though, behind a mask in those big social settings. Give me a stage, a microphone, a set of lyrics, or some comic persona to be behind, and I'm very at home in the center of it all. Or put me in a room with my wisecracking relatives, and watch us one-up the energy and humor until it's dizzying and our sides hurt from laughing. But know that sometime soon after I'll want my book, or my iPod and my bike - solitude and no verbal output.
What I've always sought and valued in my friends, in those I love, is the straight, clear gaze of someone who sees me behind my personas, who doesn't find my need for solitude or quiet to be in any way at odds with my laughing, top-spinning, high-energy self. They both are me, the true and happy me. It is good to feel at ease in that realization, and not to feel as though I need to prod myself to move more quickly or put on a happy face that I don't feel. It is lovely to feel true joy, and share it. And today I was thinking that I love the people who don't sit out the quiet me, waiting for the fun one to arrive. I love the people who don't make me feel a moment of discomfort on days when I just want to be in the presence of those I love for a bit. I have a lot of you in my life, and I'm so lucky in that.
So, tonight I came home from work and dressed in my yoga clothes. I put on my iPod, and went into the backyard. It rained today, and the earth was softened by the moisture, giving a bit underfoot. I stretched, then practiced bellydance moves in the quiet dark of the yard, my feet cushioned on the grass, my hips finding the patterns that feel right, and moving, as my instructor says, with subtley and intention. Tek - a was the beat in my head, slow and unhurried at first. Then speeding to teka teka and then to the hip shimmy, tiny moves, snapping hips and tekatekatekateka. No mirrors tonight, just movement and intention, grapevines and shimmys, lebanese hip circles and the difficult belly rolls, then those lovely easy hip circles, the slow, slow spin, one shoulder dropped and the shimmy effortless and impossible at once.
Bellydance is supposed to be performance, I'm told. I don't know. It's yoga with better music, or maybe it's just that I'm not ready to share, not ready yet to hide myself behind the public persona I'd need to dance in performance. But I don't care about that tonight, nor about worries, or decisions, or fence sitting or any of the things that my thinking self weighs every day. Nope. Tonight, I danced in the dark under a big sky, flirted with the moon through my Russian Olive's branches, moved through air sweet and heavy with the scent of summer dogwood blooming and Hyperion daylillies, and felt soft earth under my feet - which once again can dance.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I found myself out walking around my neighborhood a few nights ago, tense and needing to be out of my house for a while. A block from my house is a big irrigation canal. A big one, paved, with bridges, etc. I was standing on the footbridge looking at the fast moving water, and remembering how the complex irrigation systems fascinated me, wowed me, when I first moved West. The canal cuts through the center of the golf course, and I wandered around the "do not trespass" signs onto the course and found a spot to sit on the bank and dangle my feet in the water. It was shockingly cold, and felt fantastic in the evening's still-hot air. I was a kid for about six minutes, and I imagined sliding into the water and letting it take me somewhere, the next county, another country, the ocean....illogical, dreamy thoughts. I thought about the map I had seen once that showed it traveling miles over the countryside. And then I remembered once scooping a dog out of this very canal, a small mutt who had fallen in somewhere, scared and freezing when I grabbed him. And then...I had an idea for a story. Which has not happened in months. And I took a very deep breath, and smiled, and relaxed while I waited for the sun to set over "my" golfcourse.
I write a lot of stories with water imagery. In our fiction workshops when I was working on my MFA, we had a running joke about whatever story we were workshopping needing a shower scene. Yes, I write some of THOSE water images, but I also write lakes, bathtubs, pools, canals, rain - I love the way water moves things, carries things, lifts us, washes and covers and reveals. Lately, though, I've been a bit fixated on sounds. I think about sound often, I think in sound often. I have a friend who wears hearing appliances, and sometimes when I think of her it reminds me of how my world would be changed without sound.
But I also think of how sound tells us so much about a place. The feeling of a silent, sterile room as opposed to one which may be hushed, but with undercurrents of music, or the bubbling of an aquarium or a fountain. The pounding or sprinkling of rain on a roof, leaves, pavement. The way a home sounds - filled with music and laughter and shouting, or quieter. The sounds of illness - breathing machines, or coughing, or the cutting sounds of painful movement.
I circle always to the sound and the image of underwater hush, the escape of it. The softness of the water on skin, the magic weightlessness of being submerged, and the lovely hush. In real life this moment is only ever a moment, of course, no more than the length of a deeply indrawn breath. But in my imagination and sometimes the world of my stories that moment extends, breath comes easy even under water, and the world retreats.
Find your place of ease, and be in it.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
I'm recharging this weekend, after several weeks of running about like a headless chicken. I saw my counselor (yes, I have one, and yes, I DO in fact listen to much of what he says, though I may not always agree) on Thursday, and we talked about recharging, living actively. He is tough and generous with me at the same time. Nice combo in a friend, a lover or a counselor, if you can find it.
This active living thing. He (Cameron, the counselor) is very good at reminding me which of my frustrations are appropriate and which are just a teeeensy bit whiny. He never says whiny, he says "unhelpful" - see how he knows how to get me to listen? Hmmm....Cameron's advice was to try and separate the threads of my own personal and individual life from the threads of my marital life, my work life, etc. Not cut them, but detangle them. That sounds kind of easy, doesn't it? Sure - take some "me" time, go out with the girls, etc? But it is truly not that easy. And it is even less easy when I try to imagine it - it seems harder than it is. So I find myself putting off things that would make it more effortless to keep my center, and I find myself not prioritizing soul-feeding activities, self care, and etc.
He also reminded me that sometimes our life choices are two (or more) options that we don't like - but that we still eventually have to make the choice. You can sit on a fence for a long time looking at the options, trying to play out what might happen next, and next - like chess. Unlike chess, sometimes while you wait another option shows up. But usually not. You have to choose, and move forward. Cameron's big on moving forward, choosing between unattractive options. He is blunt ("...you may have to choose between a rock hitting you on the right side of your head, or the left") and he is generous ("...I trust you to choose well, you are careful and wise."). And, maybe best of all, he doesn't rush me, which is good. Shove me, and I dig in not only my heels but my whole damned foot. Stubborn as...well, stubborn.
So. It's a new day, and day two of a three day weekend, and the last three years, or five years, or six months....they are the history part of the story, not the life part.
Life happens today. So - today I've been busy with domestica and I'm going to ride my bike, as soon as I finish my smoothie. And then I'm going to a movie with my friend who makes me laugh about our donkey burdens. And drinks wine with me until we giggle. :D And then...well we will have to see.
If you're on a fence, don't be too rough with yourself. It happens. Don't be bothered by those who can't see why you aren't yet ready to jump to one side or another. Don't judge yourself harshly unless you are avoiding the decision. If you can't decide yet with a good heart, then don't. Hang tough, and enjoy the view.
Good summer thoughts of independence!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
This is a picture of a corner in my backyard that is presently in nearly full bloom. I took this a few days ago, and now the peonies (the dark green plants with the raspberry-colored buds in this pic) are in full bloom and are lovely. I like the way the plants in this corner complement each other. Also, those shrubs with the silvery blooms? They are a summer lilac, a late blooming lilac with silvery pannicles of flowers and a strong lilac scent - I'm not in love with the flowers, which lack the charm of true lilacs, but the scent is heavenly, and makes the yard awash in the scent of lilacs for another three weeks. So I thought I'd share.
Sometimes friends who also garden are surprised that I'm not familiar with the botanical or latin names of my plants. To me, at least up to this point, gardening isn't about that. I remember the common variety names (the hardy geranium in the picture is called Johnson's Blue - it's fabulous), and I research the hell out of plants before I buy them. But once planted, the latin names are just details. What matters to me is the act of planting, nurturing.
I WILL bike tomorrow. And for those of you who have heard my uneasy/displeased voice saying that I'm not writing...I'm writing again. Day two, but I'll take it.
It seems to me that one of the reasons I find myself unable to write, or sometimes when I find myself flirting with depression, it's because I want to stop wanting what I dream of, and be happier and content with what I have. I wrote last year about this - about being satisfied with what we have - but this is a shade different from that post. That one was about accepting and being satisfied with the path you've followed, not reliving and retracing the path that brought you to now. What I'm speaking of here is my dreams - the future me.
This isn't some brilliant new revelation - passionate people want to throw themselves into whatever it is that they are passionate about. I want to write, garden, bike, dance, sing, read, teach, drink wine, travel to the thousand places I want to see, cook meals for a kitchen full of friends and family, laugh often and hug strangers who look like they could use it. But I need to also work at a job that pays actual money, clean my house, eat sensible meals comprised of foods that are less convenient, juggle finances and doctor's appointments. Did I mention work at a job that pays actual money?
Lately, things have been too much for me. I see that NOW. :) But in the moment, I often do not know it. I'm too busy dealing with the necessary next steps. That makes me good in a crisis, good at coping with ambiguity and change, as they say on my performance reviews at work. But. BUT. It's all fine to cope well with crises so long as I'm remembering to measure them against my needs. This is the wisdom I seek these days: know when things are too much, and reset my priorities. Now, not six months from now, or "when this crisis is over." The crisis always wins, and there will always be another. Being happy means living in the now, and the now includes any number of simultaneous crises. I'm pretty good at differentiating real crises from "someone else wants me to freak about this, isn't that cute" crises - but even so, the real ones can arrive in pairs or triplets. So I need to live in the now and keep my priorities, those that feed my soul, intact. Otherwise, I stop doing things that feed my soul - see the "i want to" list above. I sacrifice, as the person who is my "other me" describes them, the parts of me that are my essence. Unacceptable. Yes, I'm aware this is something we all do. I'm just the one talking here. :)
Tomorrow is Father's Day! If you are a father, enjoy your new grill/tools/books/home store gift card/special breakfast...whatevah. And for the fathers who read these words - thanks for all you do to make your small people happy, healthy, safe and loved.
Friday, June 6, 2008
I'm pleased (relieved?) to announce that this morning I walked three miles of my four mile loop. I skipped the hill, and it was a wise decision. Any more detail would be TMI. Trust me on this. There was supppppposed to be a 6 AM training session with our team in India, but as is often the case in transoceanic virtual meeting rooms...the key person's technology failed. The cancellation gave me a chance to walk, so it was a win/win.
My sister is coming to visit Idaho at the end of the month for a family wedding in Stanley. Stanley is a rustic mountain "resort" town. Do not remove the quotes there. I'm very excited she's coming, she hasn't visited since I moved here uhm...22 years ago! I have tickets to our Shakespeare theater for a night that she is in town, and will generally just enjoy showing her "my town."
So - wanted to post some happy "I'm walking!" thoughts tonight. Hoping to get some garden pictures tomorrow, have recharged my boat-anchor camera and am poised to snapsnapsnap. It's so cool here it feels like April, not June. But summer is coming, I'm sure of it.
Peace and good thoughts to you!
Monday, June 2, 2008
Trials probably do make you stronger - or more resolute, or more clear in your thinking. Not the legal kind, though I'm certain they can sometimes have a similar effect. I'm talking about the kinds of life events, sometimes your own and sometimes those of a loved one or acquaintance, that strip away all the silliness, or reveal it as silliness, and give you perspective.
I'm thinking of big trials - those are like a spotlight, illuminating everything in the vicinity in impossibly bright light, so clear that they cannot be denied. My friend Pam's brother, Larry, had a very large tumor removed from his face a few weeks ago. He's home, recovering well, in the care and love of his very close family, and in the prayers of the faithful that Pam's life is filled with. And guess what? Every person that Pam let share in this incredible trial in her family's life knows a little bit more about family, and love, and faith. We are grateful for our family, and we either are roused by or marvel at the faith. It's impressive, and humbling.
But I'm also thinking of the smaller, wearing trials. Those that, left unspoken in the dank dark space under the stairs, grow big and acid, eating away at your confidence and your joy. Chronic illness, chronic pain, the disappointments of a lifetime - it's this kind of trial. Each moment is bearable. No problem. But they take a little, take a little - and then you find yourself without a reserve of hope, facing the big ugly thing that the moments have made in your heart. It's not inevitable, but it is a real risk, and it takes a real effort to keep those moments at bay, in perspective. Like weeding a garden, or cleaning a house - keep up with it, and it's a small matter to tidy. Let it grow unchecked, and you have a big project on your hands. Maybe blisters, certainly thorns.
I'm an evangelist about this stuff any more. I have the fervor of the saved about tending your heart as you would any other precious growing thing. Don't count what you do not have, but what you do; this is the simplest path to joy. Don't say you can't, or that you'll try. You can, so do. Find a stretch of minutes each day to tend your heart - the small trials that vex you. Yank 'em before they take root.
My big learning this month? The stretch of minutes I tend my heart are apparently the same minutes I spend walking my 4 mile loop, bellydancing, or riding my bike. Action and clarity come as one for me. So as my owie foot has been hampering my movement (it's healing - yayyyyy!), little weedlets of discontent are sprouting. I sat on my deck tonight, it was a little drizzly and cool. I looked not at the few flowers I have not yet planted, but at the expanse of beautiful blooming spaces, the plants that are like living paintings to me. I breathed deeply, and drank a glass of wine, and found ease.
Soon it will be real summer - hot, dry. But for now, it is early summer, with all the promise that holds, and air scented now with late blooming lilacs mixed with early roses, the faintly floral scent of my crazily blooming clematis vines, the dark smells of good earth and compost drifting through. It's good to see - really see.
Next time I'm here I WILL be telling you about my morning walks making me smile, my bike being the fastest thing since my banana seat Schwinn, and my new bellydancing scarves making my shimmy even shimmmmmmier. But in the meantime, I'm smiling.
Don't try. Simply do.
Monday, May 26, 2008
I watched the film "The Painted Veil" with Edward Norton. Naomi Watts is also good, as is Toby Jones as Waddington and Diana Rigg as a Mother Superior - but next to Norton every other actor in the film pales. The film is equal parts love story and historical period piece - the story of a British newlywed couple in 1920's China. The cinematography is fantastic - the film is very beautiful, with long lush shots of Chinese countryside and moody shots of Shanghai, stark shots of the orphanage/hospital where much of the action takes place. You can feel the heat of the place, the languor of unrelieved heat and humidity and the joy of bathing or swimming in such heat. If you watch it, write me whether you notice anything about the way the color blue is used in the film. The plot has just enough surprise to be satisfying - but the biggest treat for me was rediscovering the character of Walter Fane. He is the stuffy scientist with a core of fire, the accidental hero who drags his wife and himself from Shanghai to an inland China hospital during a cholera epidemic. It is a dark film with moments of sparkle - lighter than the novel, but true to the spirit of Maugham. I read the book when I read a whole lot of dark, quiet novels by W. Somerset Maugham, and this film gives the novel a new relevance, in that the scientist in Walter offers up a new way to view the ways that we "help" countries who wish not to have our help. Fane and the Colonel in charge of the village under siege have an exchange where Fane says "I've not come here to take from your people," and the Colonel replies, "I think China belongs to the Chinese - and we would rather that we could take care of this ourselves."
It's also an interesting take on finding love, on growing up, and on forgiveness and redemption. Plus - sigh! - there is a moment when Walter and his wife are undressing, they have separate bedrooms. They are rooms apart, but through a series of doors can see one another in the half-light of lanterns. She turns to him and drops her dress, and he goes to her with such Norton-esque passion, made more dramatic for the reserve that Fane exhibits much of the time. It's Norton you watch in this film, despite the interest of the director in showing us Naomi Watts - it's his smile we long to see restored, his hope. And the film made me think of the Gandhi quote above - it is a film where the indomitable will of several characters carries them into strength.
I don't want to give away the whole story - but there is one more quote I'll have rattling around my brain for a while. "When love and duty are one, grace is within you." There is much to think of in that sentence. I wonder what Maugham meant by it, and what I would make of it...it's one of those sentences that sounds lovely and rings with truth, but it also is abstract in that in order to really understand it we must agree what "love" is and what "duty" is - and it occurs to me that once we've sorted that out, the quote is obvious and perhaps not so perfect.
Now, I'm off to plant more flowers. Yes, more. Also more Garden Claw action. Whoooot! I have a perennial geranium plant, the variety is Johnson's Blue - it's in stunning bloom, in a quiet way that I quite love. I'll try to take a decent capture a picture of it, I've planted it hugging a rock border, next to a bank of lemon-leafed Lamium plants, in front of some dark green peonies just about to burst into flower. Lovely.
Be well and happy!
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
What I'm uneasy about is my continued podiatrist-induced pain. My foot continues to have me hobbling about, which keeps me from walking, bellydancing, biking, even from being able to walk easily from my car to my office. But what's worse? It keeps me from my shoes. With each week that passes, my desire to wear my cutest, least-appropriate-to-an-injured-tootsie-footwear grows more acute. I sat in my room trying shoes on my "good" foot (the right one, for the record) for a long while this weekend. Plotting which pair might be back in the rotation first. I've come to hate my tevas and my privos...must wear pretty footwear soon....ohmmm. Pitiful, eh?
I'm also not at ease with my air conditioner. It has to be replaced. No amount of charm could convince the repairman to pump it full of ozone-depleting CFC-laden freon...the thing is shot. Turns out 12 years is not an unusual life span for an air conditioner in the desert. I felt so OLD...ranting about how it was "just broken in."
My new job is so busy...soooooo busy. Crazy. But rewarding in the way that you're rewarded when you clean a really dirty house. To make this comparison work, you would have to need a backhoe to clean the dirty house. One thing I'll say about working for a Fortune 100 company - the big problems are BIG problems. Messy. I keep running into former coworkers from my days at OreIda, when we were allllll a lot younger. I was the baby back then. Technically, among that group, I still am! :)
I'm thankful for the good thoughts of friends all over the world who are trying to help me find my writer's mojo again. To friends who know nothing of THAT but who help me stay hopeful. And I'm thinking piles of good thoughts for a friend who is MIA, another who is healing from a surgery in Oz, another who is wrestling an alligator of an exhusband (seemingly while wearing a steak strapped to her head to make him want to BITE her), and an almost-birthday boy with a thang for terminally white cake.
Here is what I'll say about the air conditioner - not having it when it was 95 this weekend was not pleasant. But with the bedroom windows open, I slept all night in the scent of my lilacs, and woke to birds chittering in the spruce tree. Played hell with my allergies, but it is nice to remember the world outside the walls, the windows.
Summer will be here soon, and there is plenty of time to bike and bellydance and walk my loop in the mornings. Ease is a state of mind that one chooses.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
This is why, I think, that in times of stress I often withdraw. Because I am almost pathologically unable to ask for help, and worse - unable to not offer my help to others (illogical, you say? nah, see, my stresses are always, in my own mind, short-term - I'll be "over it" in a few days, week at the most). So, sometimes I think I should try to work on this, moderate it a bit, tinker with the uhm...intensity, maybe. But, frankly, this habit of not asking for help, and nearly always offering? It is....one of the qualities that I most like in myself. It's more than habit, it's rooted in my core beliefs. I don't just have a "can-do" attitude because it is trendy, or because someone told me it was a good way to be. I have a can-do attitude because I am a freaking, bloody, battered, against-all-proof-to-the-contrary optimist. I talk tough sometimes, and I often plan for the worst, but at the end of the day? I believe most things, most important things, can be done, and that more to the point, I am wearing the boots to get them done.
But still. I grow weary of apologizing for missing small things that ARE important, but not AS important as whatever crisis reared up. I grow weary of withdrawing instead of saying "I'm up to my ass in alligators, but I want to see you so you can remind me I'm worth knowing - 15 minutes, coffee shop?"
So. I've been checked out again for...when's the last time I posted here? I'm not apologizing, more announcing.
Since then I visited my family in Michigan, which was fantastic. My arrival was strange, and all weekend we laughed about the line "you have a beautiful mouth" - but it was NOT an omen. My sister's girls are smiling and lovely and have all found appropriately great (no pressure, Luke and Mike...great for the moment is fine, too) men. Rachel and John have a beautiful baby! My brother's family is growing, and it was fantastic to see them, too. We played euchre and ate great food and talked, talked, talked. At one point on Friday night, Mike (not-my-brother-but-Allison's-amour) said he loved how noisy it was. I laughed, and said "talk to me in three hours." Almost clockwork, we're sitting at the kitchen table in a LIVELY game of euchre (it's for the honor and the glory in my family, not mere money), and he said "it's so loud I literally can't hear myself think." So then he learned my secret - talking UNDER the cacophony. It's served me well my entire life. :) My nephew Andrew told me inappropriate jokes he found on the net, so inappropriate I was afraid I'd be sent home in shame. It's a family that's meddling and loving both, in sometimes equal measures. It was very good, VERY good, to be home.
I finished the big rollout at work, which was a nail-biting success. It's not perfect, but it's quite awesome. I took a different job at the same company, one back in IT as a Senior Technology Analyst. I'm excited about the reason the position was created - to solve a messy problem. I'm wearing the boots.... :) More money, good experience.
It's been a hard time, though, with many demands. So tonight, I was watching a television program, Paul McKenna's "I Can Make You Thin!" and most of the program's content was on the topic of negative self-image, negative self-talk, what I used to call "old tapes" (those voices from your past that you let in your head, the ones who tell you all the ways you don't measure up). I don't have a lot of negative self-talk. I'm not a person who will call myself names, for example. Please, the world does enough of that. But damn, I do love watching people learn to stop doing that. But one exercise McKenna did tonight hit a nerve. He said to think of someone who loves and respects you, then imagine that person in front of you - get into their head and look AT yourself. What do they see?
I've certainly given that advice to a lot of people, often women at a shelter where I sometimes volunteer, or people (often women) I've coached over the years as a mentor or manager. Here is the thing: I need to try to do it for myself. Because I know that I don't see the me that those who love and respect me see. I'm surprised by who they see.
So, I see a woman who overcommits, can't live up to her commitments, and risks her integrity. Others with gentler eyes see a woman who does a lot, both in the sense of being productive and in the sense of giving. Writing that makes me blush. But I promised someone I love that I would write it here, and make it part of my permanent record, so to speak.
Love and gentle thoughts to us all. It is Spring in my valley, early and cold, but here.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
I was sent some angry email after my post about vanity - there is some politically correct notion that fat is not ever bad? I'm not saying it is. I'm saying that there is a range of healthy and happy weights - my definition is probably less stringent than the Weight Watchers list. But ther is absolutely a point at which excess weight is in the way of life's enjoyment, is in the way of bodies doing what bodies are meant to do: move. So send me more hateful email...I'll take it. It's self-delusional to pretend that being very overweight isn't an unhealthy and unhappy way to be.
Now, on to the actual post....
I'm just in from walking, and it was a cold, clear, spring-is-coming day. Lovely walking weather. I've been playing catchup after an 80 hour week at work, doing laundry and domestica. And it is already Sunday night, darn it.
While I was out walking, I was letting my mind wander. I was planning a post I wanted to write here about the movie Away From Her - I cried many tears today watching it. It's a complicated film, based on a short story by one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro. It's lovely, and harsh, and difficult to watch. It has people compromising themselves both selfishly and unselfishly. It's fantastic. But I don't want to write about it today. Any more today. :)
Instead, I want to write about something else that occurred to me. It is hard to be perfectly honest and direct, even in this almost-anonymous space. I have been thinking about my bellydancing blog posts. And then about my vanity post. They are all true, and they are honest. But they are only part of the story. The surface, happy, glancing part. Here is at least one other part: I seldom recognize myself in mirrors, in motion, in photographs. Well, I do - but only after a moment, a long pregnant pause while I try to reconcile the image with my own self-portrait, my internal self-awareness.
I have heard this is common, but I think there is something peculiar in this for some people - it seems to me that it is related to the fact that I gained a lot of weight with almost no negative panicky moments. Quiet dismay, yes. Quieter adjustments of clothing, purchase of new clothing, yes. But not panic. I gained a lot of weight - a disfiguring amount of weight. Why didn't I panic? Because I think I just quit looking at myself. I looked in mirrors to apply makeup and style my hair, and that was just about it. From the neck down I was a mystery. No, not true. From the neck down I was some image I burned into my brain, a plumper version of my "real" self, but not a woman who lost herself in pounds.
Also, to the kind and usually loving people who read this and don't post comments but instead email me - please don't send me an email saying "you're being too hard on yourself." I'm not, honestly. I am not attaching a value judgment (it was "very bad of me to gain this weight") to this. It simply happened, and I'm trying to understand how. I was distracted by big huge questions in my life, my husband's health...but still. Did I gain the weight to hide, to make myself inert at a time that inertia seemed necessary? Did I not look because to look would have made it real, would have pressed me to change something? I honestly think not. I think I didn't look because to look might have made me ashamed, or afraid - and in my life those two emotions have little purpose. I can ill afford either, and I don't know how to be my true self when I feel either.
Last summer, I walked through the lobby of my then-office building, an all-glass affair with glass doors, foyers, windows everywhere, and mirrored columns, and I saw myself reflected in a whole dizzying series of images. Distorted to appear taller and thinner by some, shorter and wider by others, oddly wavy in yet others. Two things were remarkable to me that day. I did not choose to "believe" either the least flattering or most flattering image. And, I saw myself. Clearly. It was a good, healing moment. Until today, I only shared that moment with one other person. I was confused by it - wondered why it felt so big to me. He seemed to get why, and I wonder if he'll chuckle at this entry should he ever read it.
So I will tell all of you now: standing in that belly dance studio, with the heartbeat rhythm of the music loud and the hip scarves shaking, in a room with mirrors on two walls, I could not escape myself. At first I didn't want to see - do we all imagine ourselves more beautiful in motion, more graceful? Or is it that we only see our flaws at first, never quite spying the beauty of our motions, or our rhythm? I don't know - but at first, I did not want to see. I closed my eyes, in fact, until I could find my natural hip circle, my natural shoulder shimmy movement. But practicing head slides - well, you must look. You are moving your head back and forth, no shoulders, around an imaginary line on the mirror - you must look. I looked, and I think maybe I saw my real self for the first time in a long time.
I like me. She's crazily imperfect, and she is not the woman I keep in my memory, the one fit from biking and hiking, laughing into the camera at her 35th surprise birthday party. No. The me I see now has more lines on her face, there is something darker in my eyes, but my gap-toothed smile is still bright, and I still laugh with the joy I remember having since I could name memories - the giggling, life-full joy that I insist is a living tribute to my parents. I can't see my face in laughter without seeing my mother and my father - his coloring and eyes and mouth, her nose and the too-proud snippety-ass lift in my chin.
Let spring come soon, please. Very soon.
Peace and good thoughts ~
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
But. I wanna be able to master the prescribed steps first, then raise my nose a trifle and dance my own steps. Which brings us to the move of all moves - grapevine and reverse grapevine with shoulder shimmy. It has a real name. Something mideastern-y and old. But reallllly...it's all about the shoulder shimmy, with extreme attitude.
I still love the way the hip scarves accentuate parts of our bodies that we'd normally hide. I love the way the teeny-tiny-hipped woman in the front row truly cannot roll her hips in a figure-8, and giggles the whole time in utter glee anyway. The small and almost secret smiles of women when our instructor says "hip circle, find your own..." and then "that's your natural movement - own it." I love touching fingers in a circle and dancing, giggling your other right to the girl next to me, the sweet but clumsy one who keeps stepping on my toes.
Yup. Sigh. Grapevine and reverse grapevine with shoulder shimmy. My hair smiles, it's that kinda happy. Enough about belly dance for a moment.
I am trying to figure out if I can hurry up a cutover at work so that I can climb in a car Friday afternoon with my go-anywhere-do-anything friend and drive a few hundred miles, spend the night at a haunted hotel, drink wine and see geysers, talk about books until we want to pass out. Road trip!!! She is giving a workshop and reading - I would be the roadie. :) It is fun to think about, even if it doesn't work out.
In two weeks I'll be flying to Michigan! Yay! I can't wait to see everyone, and meet the new baby. Here's hoping for some pleasant weather. It's March in Michigan...but hope springs eternal, you know.
Enough for today...I'll try to be back more often now that this project is winding down.
peace and good thoughts!
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Women are hard on other women, in my experience. I've been working at losing weight for about 22 months. It's slow going, and I no longer think those who bemoan the difficulty of losing weight once you pass 40 are slugs and laze-asses. For months, as the weight scraped itself off a pound at a time, in fits and jerks, there seemed no outward change in my appearance. Only I seemed to notice that I was fitting into, then shrinking out of, a series of sizes. But lately everyone is noticing, as though the last few pounds I've lost were the magic ones. I'm not done losing and I'm sure there will be more on this topic in future posts, but I have been musing about the questions of weight, body image, vanity.
The women in my family have generally had healthy doses of vanity in their characters. They were of that "type" that put on lipstick to make breakfast. They wore high heels with shorts. They didn't leave the house without checking their hair, lipstick, powder. I grew up thinking all women naturally smelled of AquaNet, lipstick and face powder with a light-to-liberal spray of some specific perfume. These women poked and prodded at their bellies and the thin pads of fat on their hips. They did not work out, they did not know about the muscle loss that attends aging without efforts to fight it. They merely drank more coffee, ate smaller pieces of pie and wished for their old bodies to return.
But - they were not, generally, heavy as women of my generation can become heavy. Most of them were not. The epidemic of obesity that is sweeping our country would have apalled these women. Not because of the health risks. I can't tell you how many times I heard "we're all going to die of something..." - the mantra of my smoking, cocktail-drinking, butter-eating predecessors. No - they'd be motivated not by health, but out of the risk to their wardrobes. I fought my weight as a girl - and I never remember my mother worrying about my health. I was the smart one, not the athlete. No sports. I sang, and acted in plays, and read books. I wrote stories and did math, memorized the periodic table and made people laugh. My mother worried about my looks, my ability to wear hip huggers or short skirts. I later realized that she worried about the world not seeing ME beyond the imperfection of my body. She marveled that, though I truly did WANT to wear the short skirts and tight Calvin Klein jeans that were "the" thing when I was in high school, it wasn't the kind of desire that moved me. I didn't discover that desire until my 20's, when I realized I liked the way being fit, and exercising, felt. Stubborn, I know.
My point? Most people are not motivated by fear. They are only made fearful, and frantic. Vanity seems to me to be born of fear, a fear that you don't measure up or that you will lose the measure of beauty you have. Pleasure and joy motivate. So what works for me is the simple thought that I will feel better and it will show in every line of my (imperfect but pretty awesome anyway) face and body if I simply move my body often and eat well. Great shoes do not hurt. I'm not immune to vanity's tug! :)
Still, there have been moments that I wished to possess a bit more of that vanity. It would maybe stop me from losing track of my physical self when my life gets crazy, or upsetting. Note to self: Life gets crazy, it always will. Must not react to that by abandoning the pleasures of movement.
Happy Heart Day. I'm thinking of rounded and gorgeously imperfect hips wrapped in fuschia and red and purple and black hip scarves, all stepping through a grapevine step, in a circle, while our hands and arms move in Pretty Lady sweeps, to music as familiar as a heartbeat, punctuated by laughter and the cheerful jingle of tiny coins.
Peace and great good thoughts!
Monday, February 11, 2008
Here is the thing: I hate my belly. I've always hated my belly. At one time I hated being my height, having all these damned curves...but by the time I hit my late 20's, I had narrowed and focused my hatred: I merely hated my belly.
So. Tonight I'm taking a bellydance class. Because I love to dance, and I think it looks like fun, and I'm thinking maybe, MAYBE I'll like my belly more if it is useful, or if I can see it in a new way, maybe as not-horrible...even (gasp) - pretty? Nah, too much. Baby steps.
Also: today, February 11, was my mom's birthday. I woke up happy and have been smiling for her all day today. I wore red for her (she liked me in red). And between conference calls and munching my tupperware-packed salad (healthy!), I am remembering all the funny things about her. I thought of her smartass humor and her giggle. And I remembered the way she thought her kids were pretty much perfect. Especially my brother, Michael. :) (He is pretty awesome, I must agree...but the girls aren't bad, either.) I remember her temper, the way her chin rose when she would say, in disgust, about someone or some agency that "they can just kiss my ass." Seems that MIGHT be where I got this idea that being ladylike does not require quiet acceptance. :)
I'm remembering her snappy blue eyes and her fiery temper, and the way she drank half-beers (they add up, I'm here to tell you), and tapped her feet to music, and picked out songs by ear on a piano. That piano thing still to this DAY amazes me. I'll sing her a song on my way home, and maybe tell her about this bellydance thing. And maybe, though she never learned it, she'll understand when I tell her that I'm all done hating parts of me. It's just silliness.
Peace and shimmmmy-essence to you!
Sunday, January 27, 2008
It made me damned homesick though, and I'm trying to plan a trip home this spring or summer. It's not enough - I need to live somewhere nearer. Working on that...
It's been a week already? Hunh. I had a busy week at work, a clarifying week that will have my resume shined up before the day is out, and updated resumes posted on Monster. My stories are doing what stories do in the world of literary journals - being read and rejected with sometimes-encouraging comments. My writing is ARGH. Kicking my ass, but I keep kicking back.
Here is something I told a friend recently, and that seems important as I plan to make some big decisions. I will circle and analyze until I'm certain further analyzing will do me no good - then I decide, and commit, and I'm happy with what I choose. I dislike deciding without that time to think it through. I dig my heels in if someone tries to rush me. But generally I don't second guess my decisions and am not wistful about them. To what end? 'Tis done - move on. This is apparently a key characteristic of "happy" people.
Just finished watching a film titled "Antonia's Line," which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1995, apparently. The film is earthy and sensual, playful, painful and lovely in turns - telling the story of Antonia's life after she returns to her small village. It has powerful female characters, something of a celebration of matriarchy. There is love, and brutality, and ambition - sigh. It is excellent, but that's not what I want to write about today. There is a moment in the film when Antonia has had a great loss, and is mourning. She says "Ehhh...there is nothing to be done but get up. Life must be lived." Indeed, it must. Dinners must be cooked, laundry washed, children raised, lives lived. Because time moves, regardless of our readiness for it to do so.
What I'm wrestling now is how the pieces of my life fit together, or fail to. I need more time to write, I want to have or make a family and my days are not being spent in support of what I say is important to me. It seems that everything touches everything else - like dominoes with teeth. Every change creates a ripple in the little pond of my life. Some people in my life are cheering me on - make the rippppplessss....., while others enjoy that smooth water. I am closer to the former than the latter. Change is good, and necessary, and it is inevitable. So, at some point, I will need to make some ripples. In fact, if you're not much of a swimmer, you may want to strap on your life vests - I'm seeing a potential cannonball in my future. :)
Good thoughts and peace to you!
Monday, January 21, 2008
My sister's middle daughter is having a baby. Today! She is overdue and verrry pregnant, and today IS the day. I'd love to be there, and I'm very aware of the distance between me and the people I love today. Over the weekend I talked briefly with my sister, and was joking with her about this conversation I keep having with the therapist - he gives me the depression test, I say "Doesn't frustrated ranting indicate a lack of depression???" Now I smile as I say it...but I mean it. He laughs, reminds me he has to ask the questions, and then we talk about living with depression, next to depression. My husband is fighting depression along with, and in great part because of, his physical challenges, you see. Or therapist-dude tries to talk the hard-headed me into believing that some small distinction of the difference between anxiety-induced behaviors, addictive behaviors and compulsive behaviors matters. For the record? In my book - they do NOT. They may come from different places in our minds, but they FEEL the same. Your life, your actions, your behaviors are not authentic to who you are. I keep telling him - your job is to know what caused the problem so you can fix it. My job is to tell you you're not doing that great a job yet. :) It's okay, I'm charming and I say this stuff with a smile and a relatively light heart, and so that comment makes him laugh.
This weekend, while talking to another friend, we wound up talking about the things we always thought we would do that we are not doing. She is a single mom, and I am...well, I am not where I thought I would be. Here was our short list: camping, backpacking, snowshoe weekends, international travel, impulsive road trips (that one was mine). Seeing a pattern here? Uh...it's all about escape, babeeee. So we went digging into our Campus Rec calendars to find low cost opportunities to do this stuff. We're going to go snowshoeing in a few weeks on an overnighter (there will be no snow camping, a lodge and someone else cooking will definitely be involved). I'm going to take a belly dance class. We're going to find some group to try backpacking with. It's so easy to accept limits when you are tired, isn't it?
So...I'm reading a book called Atonement, by Ian McEwan, recently made into a film. I've owned the book for a while, and when I began reading it again, I remembered trying to read it once before. It is lovely. Lush prose, surprising observations in a WWII setting, the lens of today on a time that is at once familiar and unfamiliar to us now. What makes it hard to read is the act of a child, a precocious and smart and headstrong child, that shapes lives. McEwan circles the moment of this act with precision and grace until it is almost unbearable to read it. Books do that to me. My dance with the written words of a book, or of letters, or emails, create such a vivid place that I feel I inhabit it. Unlike, completely unlike, the experience of film, where I am clearly an observer. In any case, one of the things I'd rather do than work today is finish this book. Tomorrow night my teaching career resumes, with a nighttime beginning fiction class. I am both excited and wondering how I'll manage it. So, another of the things I would rather do today is work on my materials for the class - my syllabus and handouts and schedule and...all of it.
Most of all, I'd like to spend the day writing. I have a story that is aching to get out of me, that I'm pacing around like a caged lioness, afraid to start, burning to start. The act of writing these stories is so involving, though. I lose myself for a time, and it can be almost frightening to do that. Right now, it feels both seductive and a little scary. But irresistible.
Find peace, stay warm and smile often.