Monday, October 26, 2009

No Replays

Lately it seems that using the word "passes" in reference to what happens with time is just a little too wimpy for my tastes.  The word "spend" is accurate, but it doesn't seem to capture the urgency or permanency of the act.  Sometimes our involvement with time elapsing is passive, those days or hours we allow to slip past us like river water over a stone.  And sometimes we want to hold the moments tightly, to live each breath.  In either case, though, we are well served to remember that this moment is never coming back.  We've spent it, and not in the American sense of putting it on a credit card to deal with later.  No, it's gone.  Truly gone.  And we can't save them up, the moments and hours and years.  Once gone, they are in the past.  Historical.  This is not being written to urge readers to become anxious minute-minders.  No, minding minutes in anxiety is precisely the behavior we need to avoid. 

I'm writing it because I need to hold tightly to the moment in every moment.  Live it fully, then let it go.  Choose wisely whenever I can, and if my choices seem bounded by obligation - choose to live fully in those moments, too, because even choosing to meet obligations is a choice.  I know, I know...but it is.  We choose to meet our obligations, or not to meet them, because we find joy in the completion of those things or because we do not like the consequences.  Being conscious of that choice gives me peace even in madness. 

Hmmm.  Speakng of madness, my job is still quite mad.  The way that I feel on Monday mornings is a very good barometer for how well I'm finding balance in my life.  Let us merely say that this Monday morning felt a little bumpy, but I chose to put on a smile and sally forth.  Yay, me.

My friend Ms. Mo and I visited a fabric store yesterday.  I was looking for harem pant patterns and fabric, because a seamstress I met through my troupe is going to make the pants for a performance in a couple of weeks.  After leaving the store, we stood in the parking lot and talked for a long while, standing in bright fall sunshine on a glorious afternoon with the Boise foothills arcing in golden fall tones across our view.  I spent those minutes in that parking lot wisely.  We could have parted and hurried back to our lives when we left the store.  We could have multitasked and team grocery shopped, which might have been fun.  But what we did was stand in a parking lot in glorious sunshine and enjoy the women we are becoming, have become. 

There is something else I have been thinking about, and it seems related to this understanding that time is finite, minutes all count, our days are our own but the only one we are guaranteed is today.  This other idea is that all of the very best people I know are hard on themselves.  Be gentle with yourself, and try hard to stop judging every past mistake, reliving every wrong turn or missed chance, replaying every bobbled moment.  It's not helpful.  Those moments are in the past, and the only benefit we gain from reliving them is to learn from them.  Don't sacrifice your precious today-minutes, your life-minutes, in homage to your history. 

There is more, there is always more, but for today I think this is enough.

~ plk

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fall Away Slowly

I'm back. Pink cheeked since it's been so long.

It's going to be a good weekend. I am holding tight to weekends and free hours and minutes to find solace these days. It's not the best way to live, but it's what I have just now. I'm working on a story revision to send to the Missouri Review contest, which closes on October 1. It's rough going, and slow, and I intend to do it anyway.

This was a good week for finding my rhythm again. I attended a party where there were writers, and where people who love writing talked about why literature and the arts matter. I was reminded of how smart and sharp and lovely the writers I've known often are. How they sparkle, nearly.

I've also been belly dancing quite a lot this week, preparing for a relaxed show at a local festival this weekend. We've added a new dance. Lots of spinning, my first experience with a veil, a very high potential for either mishap or dizziness. So we practiced two hours on Saturday, two hours on Wednesday, and I spent an hour tonight in the quiet dark of my backyard with my iPod clipped to my tank top, spinning to the strains of Tien Afto, the iPod casting an odd glowing light about my face and the shine of the veil's gold edge catching light. It's hard to feel anything but relaxed when you are concentrating on step-together-step, glide.... or on not tripping while spinning. The calm voice of our leader in my head reminds me how I value those who make me feel at ease, calm. Usually these people are those who are centered, and I gravitate to them, am drawn to them.

My bellydance instructor, despite her energy, is calmly centered, as are most of my favorite coworkers. When given enough space and time to breathe, I am very calm and centered. It's one of my favorite compliments of all time, that "you are at once centered and full of life, joy." It was a compliment that made me blush, and that felt like a compliment about something in me that truly matters. I'm not feeling that. Not now.

Just now, I can find that calm only in snippets. There are big questions in my head, and I know because I feel that hot press of urgency against my throat that I should make only tiny decisions. Only small decisions in moments of tension, saving large ones for a time when breath comes easy. I'm not in the right frame of mind to make big sweeping ones. Small. Unhurried. Tomorrow's decision is which costume pieces I'll wear, and how to get myself to the performance (it's at a street fair). It's enough.

Dancing out in the grass, breathing the night air and stretching after each run-through, i was thinking about all the nights I have not spent standing in night air, a bit sweaty from moving in rhythm and in joy. Not thinking with bitterness, or regret, but with clear eyes. We decide every day how to spend our lives. It's my theme.

Best to all who happen this way!


Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Heart Wants What it Wants

Today I'm going to start running again, after three weeks of not running. I expect it will be painful. Yay. Several of the people who love me best have asked why I'm pressing myself in this particular way. If it is so difficult, why do it? And I've pondered that. Because I want to, that's the best answer I have. It has me thinking, though.

The heart wants what it wants, and will not be denied.

I don't know the origin of this phrase, and I despise Woody Allen for using it to defend his attraction to his step-daughter, because I think the phrase is not about taking what you want, but about acknowledging your desire, and to my ear it also implies that pretending you do not desire something does not change what you feel in your heart, or your gut. I believe in desire, in the hunger for something outside ourselves to feel pleasure, or to connect with a piece of art, or to meet some other soul in this big universe who for some shiny brief moment of perfection feels what you feel. That spark of connection sustains. It is the moment of sexual spark, certainly. But it is also the moment when you exchange glances with a person who is looking at an ocean vista, or a child who is perfectly joyful, or a painting - and knowing instantly that they see what you see. It is the moment, as a writer, when a reader feels the world on your page and is moved by it.

To me, the exquisite pleasure of desire is not always about desire fulfilled. I am, after all, a recovering Catholic. Maybe it is because I know and love people who have faced struggles to find their happiness. Or, as my friend Ms. Mo often says, we are governed by our Calvinist impulses in a world that has gone mad for cheaper pleasures. In any case, to me the sharp pleasure of desire is about the cleansing, clarifying and sense-honing experience of wanting something. Appreciating the object of my desire, be it person, place, object or experience. Desire is one of the truest, most pure expressions of life. Breath-catching, heart-pounding, pulse-raising desire. Or, more simply, the hunger for a lovely meal, the energy that fuels us up a long hill so that we can see the view awaiting our efforts. I want. I want, want, want. I want is the opposite of bored disinterest, or of depression. It is part of what makes the knocked-down person stand right the hell up again and shake it off. I want.

Clinical depression robs a person of desire. I see commercials for the drugs to combat depression and hear their voiceover script "...who does depression hurt? Everyone." I hate those commercials, too. Fearmongering. Bah. But it is true that the reach of depression, the circle of it, is bigger than the person who is depressed. "Can't care..." that is the phrase that I "hear" in the voices and thoughts of those I love who fight depression. It's that loss of vital hunger for experience that, to me, makes it difficult for those who are defined by fiery desire and those who struggle with depression to remain connected to one another. When we can keep that in mind, it is easier to separate the person from the condition. It is not that Johnny can't care, it is that the depression makes him think he can't care. Depression is a soul-robbing, joy-stealing thing. I hate it, and I fight to understand it, and I want badly to wave my princessy wand and banish it from my world.

But I can't find the princessy wand. I think it is behind my bookcase.

Thus, in the absence of the wand, I'm guarding all my desires with huge energy. I want to dance in the dark. I want to read and write stories and essays and books that connect me to the world I know. I want to see new sights, and taste new things, and drink wine in places I've never been. I want to meet people I don't yet know, and spend moments with people I know and love. I want to not take dreams off my list.

So, fueled by my delightful breakfast smoothy and coated in sunblock, I'm off to revisit week three or four of the C25K plan, and get back on track with it.

Be well!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No Surprise

Sometimes I am amazed by how easily we let things that matter to us slip through our fingers, lose priority. This is not a revelation. It is not even the first time I've written about it here. Yet there are moments when the realization is so bright and sharp that it feels new, and surprising, and cutting. I've not been writing. It's not a surprise. One can't work 80 hours a week, manage to do any sort of self care AND write well. Or at all. I'm sick to death of the reasons why, though. It's simple - I am just not making it a priority. I'm in a pact with a coworker to try to work less, to stake out a few nights a week where we do not work, and to try and free time for other things. The things that matter.

My trip to see my family was filled with lots of good moments. I met my grand-nephew (CUTE, and a teensy bit spoiled!), hugged everyone, laughed a lot, floated in the surf and generally enjoyed myself beach-style. When you show up, you're in the moment. That was my big learning. I didn't miss the announcement of the newest addition to the family - Becky and Luke are going to have a baby! I didn't miss the rap-star showdown between Sexy Mike and J-man. I didn't miss the chance to teach Drew how to cut an onion. I didn't miss a bunch of moments I'd otherwise have missed...and that makes me happy.

Airports can be fun. My flight home was marked by a 5 hour layover in Atlanta, where I met servicemen just home from Iraq, and talked with them about their families and a teeny bit about their experiences. I met a couple on their way to adopt a baby in Guatemala and shared their excitement over carryons crammed with baby stuff. And I watched goodbyes - some tearful, some quick and quiet. I've never been any good at goodbye. I avoid the wrench of emotion whenever I can. And as I get older, I realize that this is something I'm getting worse at. I'm ever more aware, as I go in for the goodbye clinch, of how long it will likely be before I see this person I love again. But I'm also more grateful for moments shared, and for the love that abides across long distances.

This week I've been thinking about the lives we imagine for ourselves, and the lives we lead, and how often those lives do not really resemble one another. It's my firm belief that happiness comes from loving the life you are in, and not mourning the imagined life you did not have. Sometimes that is damned difficult. Often it is. It is sometimes easier to give up the big dreams than the small ones, the ones you hold tightest. But this week I've also been thinking about the love of parents for children - and have been considering how much more difficult it seems to be to give up the dreamed-of life for a child and celebrate the life they actually have. But you can't do both - you can't celebrate the moment that is and mourn the moment that is not without sacrificing some joy. I often think of what my parents would see in my life, and what they would either celebrate, scold or mourn in my choices. Not in a maudlin or sad way, simply in a way to connect with their memories (and sometimes to motivate myself to make a damned decision!). I can't know yet whether my life will remain childless, but I know that my wisdom about parenting is deepened by watching the difficult choices of the parents I know. My wisdom about the human heart, and what keeps me believing in people is deepened, too.

The sun is setting in a colorful show on the other side of "my" golf course, and the air is cooling in our city on the edge of the desert. I'm going to have a glass of wine on my deck, and maybe dance in the grass to my iPod.

Celebrate something small this week. Please.

~ patti

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Choices, Decisions and Considerations

I have a great cup of coffee, have stretched the soreness out of my knee and am planning a day of things I want to do and things I need to do. It's all good.

This week was an interesting one in several ways. After months of being very good at making exercise a priority, this week I only walked twice and danced once. And I felt sluggish and out of sorts as a result. But it made me consider the idea that everything is a choice. I know this, it's not a revelatory moment. Every day we choose a hundred times before we even leave the house. What to drink, whether to breakfast, whether to read the news or browse The Onion for humor, what to wear and with which shoes - a series of choices.

It occurs to me that some people, perhaps many people, often recognize those tiny decisions as "choice" but don't recognize that each day we are remaking our life decisions, too. We are all choosing, each one of us, every day that we remain in our job, our city, our house, our relationships, our routines. Routines, after all, are only a set of decisions that we made once and decided not to rethink. Habits are ingrained routines - but all habits began as choices. Maybe 'recognize' is the wrong word. Consider might be better. We tend to see the life decisions as done deals, and the fact is we can rethink and remake any one of them at almost any moment.

This means every single day I choose to be where I am, doing what I am doing. Even those things that feel compulsory are choices - it's just a question of accepting consequence. For me, a hyper-responsible woman living in a world that rewards that particular set of choices with an ever increasing set of responsibilities, this is a very clarifying idea. As my friend Ms. Mo says, some people have heavier donkey burdens to bear. I think a corollary to that is the fact that some people make choices that add weight, and sometimes those choices are not recognized as choices.

Choice is freedom, and freedom is good.

Today I'm choosing to take a walk, work on some domestica and errands, maybe plant some flowers, practice my bellydance and read.

Be well!

~ plk

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Checking In

If you're reading this, I want to thank you for checking in when I've been so long absent. These posts give me balance when I need it, so I'm going to try, again, to keep making them.

You know what makes me impatient? (That was rhetorical, no need to post a list....I'm actually a very strange combination of very patient and rather impatient.) People who say they are bored. This makes me impatient. Seriously - I have always had a hundred ways I wanted to spend each day, all vying for my attention and focus. I have a hundred stories I'd like to write, a hundred books I'd like to read, a hundred places I'd like to roadtrip, a hundred meals I'd like to prepare, a hundred (okay a dozen or two) people I'd like to spend the day with, a hundred hikes...

Please. Bored? Get out of my sight. So, given that, here is what makes me laugh, ruefully: I know how I need to fill my days to make my soul sing, I know how I need to structure my days if I ever hope to write prose worth reading, I know when I need to exercise to keep myself calm and focused and happy - and yet. Do I do these things? I do not. Instead, I let the world's clamor for my attention distract me from myself, and as a result I am less happy, less effective and less filled with the joy of a life being lived. Bah.

That's what is on my mind today. Babysteps to find that structure and focus are what I'm trying now. Wish me luck.

I apparently never posted the fact that I have braces. Hunh. Well, I do. I've had a gap forever, and it became crooked....and so now I have braces because the very charming and smart orthodontist didn't pressure me, simply confronted me with logic and "the right thing to do..." language. Also he reads literature, so I was sold. And, honestly, he and his office manager are bright spots of warmth and normalcy in the crazy life I've been leading of late. So while I dislike the pain and absolutely LONG to bite into something that isn't cut into small pieces, I'm going to be pleased with the result and I'm going to count the opportunity to meet the good doctor and the lovely Michelle among the gains for the pain.

My garden is beginning to take my energy and time again - and the lack of effort I put in last summer and fall is showing in the lackluster look this spring. I'd planned to hit the dirt this weekend and work a billion pounds of compost into the beds, but instead it rained and instead I cleaned and organized indoors.

I'm avoiding the topic of work. Let us simply say that it is too large a proportion of my life at the moment. And I work with fabulous people who are in the same boat, and we are all trying to find a way to balance it. I think we will.

I'm teaching on Monday nights this semester, and while that seemed great when I first saw the schedule, I've had a difficult time because so many of our university holidays are on Monday. We lost several weeks of class, so the class has been in a bit of a makeup mode all semester. Only a few more weeks and we'll see how they do! But teaching reminds me to read my favorite stories. When I do that, I remember why it is that a story like Dubus' "A Father's Story" is so important in the world.

The Couch to 5K plan was going swimmingly until my knee began to bother me, and that led me to the foot doctor/knee doctor, who concluded that I have either an overdeveloped quadricep or an underdeveloped hamstring from biking so much., the direction is to run VERY SLOWLY to build the hamstring. Argh. I hate running slowly. So much that I want to not bother and just go back to my walking routine. Except I am too stubborn. My bellydance class is now much more fun - we have more women, the sad/cranky/angry woman left the group and a bunch of fun and energetic new women joined, and it is just a lot more fun now. I missed class ONCE, and came back to news that "we" might be performing at an event in July. Now....I've always said I wouldn't perform, this is just for fun, just for me, just to make myself at least look with kindness on my abdomen. But it has turned into something else, I think. It's the first "group" I've been a part of that was not about debate, speech, drama or singing. It's a performance where none of my verbal skills or IQ points matters a bit. It is a celebration of women's bodies and of movement. And in some ways this is the same impulse making me want to run a 5K race, or train for a sprint triathlon - I want to test myself in a different way. So, maybe I will do it. We'll see.

Miss Allison, if you read this please know that I'm thinking of you and that I wish I'd thrown caution to the wind and bought the damned ticket. I SO wish I could hug you on your day.

It is spring, and we are in the season of unfettered growth, of plants bursting nearly fully formed from the soil. Harness some of that energy!

Let the priorities rise.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Let the Priorities Rise

Today as I was running my baby-steps-but-someday-a-5k-will-be-possible workout, I found myself quite happy. It has been a rough couple of weeks, and I still have a lot of backed up tasks and to-do's on my plate, but as is usually true in such times the important things are small and physical and real.

Let the priorities rise. That's my mantra this week, and for the next several.

A friend of mine died this week. Suzie was a friend I'd made at work a number of years ago, a friendship complicated by the heightened tensions of a workplace that was very psychologically unhealthy, and by my role as her boss. Until recently, she and I had not spoken for years, not since I left that job and she found that her loyalties were divided (inappropriately, and I feel partially responsible for that) because of the circumstances around my leaving. It was an ugly time, and it was not a time I'm proud of. But we are humans who screw up, and leaving that job was one of the best things that has happened to me as a person - I learned so much about myself, and it freed me to realign my goals and realize several of them.

But I digress. Two weeks ago, after Suzie received her final diagnosis from her doctor, she phoned. I returned her call, and as easily as we had halted our friendship, we resumed it. There were apologies, and tears, and laughter. The next night I went to see her, and she was so sick - but her eyes were the same huge pools of blue and her laugh was as easy as ever. She told me her stories of that workplace I'd left, and they were predictably maddening. She told me her plans for her service, in some detail. She lit up like a lantern when she described her grandchild. And now, it's days later and she is gone. Quietly, in her sleep. She was 57.

Do you ever feel the universe is trying to tell you something - insistently? Do you ever feel that you are stubborn for not listening, or stupid for not obeying, or dense for not understanding? Do you ever wonder if all the time we spend trying to figure out the connections, the message, the lesson, would be better spent simply picking up the phone and reconnecting with people we've let slip from our lives?

As is my wont these days, all of the moments that are difficult i am also finding clarifying. There is clarity in seeing pettiness, in recognizing mistakes I've made, in opening myself to the reality that this life is the only one we're assured of.

Be well, and let the priorities rise in your own lives.

~ patti

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Living Well

I've missed writing these. My commitments are excessive, and I need to make this a priority anyway.

On Valentine's Day, we lost someone unexpectedly. Tom Otto, my brother in law, died unexpectedly while visiting Arkansas. His funeral was last Tuesday, and it still seems surreal to imagine him gone. I spoke with Denise, his wife, on Saturday, and in her voice I could hear how unreal it still feels, despite the fact that she is now home. She was telling me of several other calamities, and one other death, and we both laughed a bit ruefully - it's enough, already. Tom's humor and his stubbornness, his chuckle and his wry humor when dealing with things that frustrated him, those are the things I will remember. His smile was contagious. He lived well and raised a beautiful daughter who will make him proud forever. He leaves a big hole, and the world a better place for his having passed through it. And though I know the adult in me made the right decision in not racing to Arkansas for a whirlwind trip, I wish heartily that I could hug Denise, and Katie. Denise in a crisis reminded me of the many strong, capable, get-it-done women I love so much. The ones who just take care of business and then make potato salad for 30, because it needs done.

There are two things that I want to write about tonight, thinking of this. One is that we never know when we will be taken, and so we all need to live without regrets, and especially without delay. Do not delay your life until it is a more convenient time, a "better time" - do it now. Do it now, not out of fear that you may not have the chance, but out of pure hungry desire to live every day fully. Not out of fear, though. Never from fear. Follow your heart, make space for what makes your heart sing. Don't wait for the world to arrange itself so that you can, just make it happen.

The other thing I want to write about is the act of facing a fear. I've been on a bit of a journey the last few years, on a mission to face down the things that I avoid out of fear. Most of those things, in my little head, are physical. I've long trusted my brain, my ability to speak well and easily, to argue effectively, to make others laugh, to solve difficult problems. My fears are around physical things - dancing "with intention" as I do when I bellydance is one fear I'm facing. It is also mixed up with the fear of being judged for the way I look. And another is running. I'm all good with hiking, walking, biking and now with bellydancing (though NOT yet with performing). But was off my list. I was too uhm...curvy. Too heavy and too curvy and my knee might get hurt and I'm not the athletic one and....yeah.

So when I realized my stock statement about running ("I'm just not built for it.") was actually a copout, since I have never actually tried to run, I decided it had to go on the blasted list. Dammit. So I started this program called the Couch to 5K. I'm not a couch person. I've been walking 3.5-4 miles a day most days since...a long time. But this program is very gradual. It mixes running segments with walking segments, gradually increasing the time you spend running until, by the end of the 9th week, you are running 5K, or 30 minutes. Yay! I'm not going to make it in 9 weeks, let's just get comfy with that reality right now. I'm running, though. A tiny bit, but I didn't give up even when my knees hurt and I really wanted to give up. So I'm on my third iteration of week 1, and I think by next Saturday I'll be ready for Week 2. It turns out I need more walking and much more stretching before the walking/running segments.

How is this important enough to be in the same post as losing Tom? Easy - this is one less missed opportunity on my lifebook, and one less fear standing between me and the clarity I'm trying to find.

Be well, and make some space this week to let your heart sing.