Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Sunday I rode my bike on our city's riverside Greenbelt for 21.4 miles.  (I love my Garmin.)  It was a beautiful afternoon, the colors are changing and the softness of autumn light is simply soothing to my soul.  The path I rode winds along the river, and through some neighborhoods, and alongside a few large ponds.  It was a good workout, but it was also a good way to blow the cobwebs out of my mind, and remind myself of some good things. 

I pedaled past a perfectly beautiful tree.  It stood in the center of a small wooded meadow at mile 3'ish on my ride, a meadow that the path loops around.  I was lucky to notice it as I came around a curve.  The autumn light hit the tree with such perfect radiance, the sun shining on and through and around the branches and leaves, which were a riot of color in varying shades of rich burgundy red, golden red, coral, orange. 

My pace (thank you, Garmin) was important to me, and so I slowed slightly but kept pedaling.  As I pedaled, I thought repeatedly about that tree.  I'd decided to stop on my return to take some photos with my cell phone camera.  The thoughts I was having were all about hidden beauty, and the way that nature blends unexpected colors in perfect beauty.  But when I got back to the little meadow, the light had shifted.  The tree, while still lovely, was not an immense radiant jewel glowing in the perfect angle of sunlight.  It was a tree, adorned in fall colors.

Take the moments when they are offered. 

My best to all who happen this way!


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Course Changes

On Thursday night while I was out walking a few miles, I passed children playing flag football at the nearby school.  It was apparently sanctioned and official-ish looking game (relatively, it was flag football, after all) which was only clear because there were actual sidelines marked on the grass and there were parent-type people on the sidelines and a guy with a whistle.  The kids were just out there to play.  They largely ignored the coaches and the whistle, and basically chased whoever had the ball until it was lost, and then chased whoever picked it up.  The group flowed around the field looking like a fleece-and-denim-clad school of minnows.  And their laughter was like music.

It is not typical for me to walk or exercise without my iPod.  I need something to distract me from the sounds of my feet or my bike tire on the pavement.  I would have missed that sweet and lovely sound entirely, had I been wearing headphones. 

The moment has stuck with me.  I keep hearing that laughter, and watching the effortless turns and spins and reversals of course on that field, seeing the laughter that accompanied the change in direction.  It made me wonder when we lose that.  When do we stop seeing changes in course as the inevitable result of playing the game, or of living our lives, and become so focused on the original course that deviations to it are seen as failures, or irritants?  How many times do we use the phrase "get back on track" (or some variation) in a week?  Do we ever consider whether the new course is simply the one that was intended all along?  That we might have stumbled over the right course by some magic of alchemy and gravity and pure dumb luck?

It's about goals, I think.  The inflexibility of our goals.  But it is also about having a rigid expectation of what it means to do the right thing.  It is being unable to acknowledge that being on the right path, the one that leads to joy, is every bit as important as meeting our original goals or our personal expectations.  For some, it is easy to walk away from a responsibility. 

For others, it seems nearly impossible - and this post is for those people. Please remember - our lives are not either/or.  Our options are not merely "stay the original course with your teeth gritted against how much it hurts and feel wrong" or "walk away and start a new life."  There are a million options between those poles, and our hard work is to find the one that is most fulfilling without losing our integrity. 

When you are in the middle of a trial in life, it is not easy to do the thing that we have not done before, to make the choice that is not the familiar one.  But it's the only way to see what new joy might come, what measure of happiness might be returned if we try another tack. 

I'm working hard at finding my joy these days.  This week I'm going to try to see changes in course like I'm 7 years old and running after a ball carrier on a flag football field.  Feel the joy of being able to run and turn, be mindful of the lumpy turf under my feet and keep my eyes on the ball, but laugh with abandon when my plan is foiled by a turnover. 

Be well and happy!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Briny Pleasures

I should be in bed.  At a minimum, I should be getting ready for bed.  But my brain will not slow down enough this evening.   Tonight I'm not writing about "current events" in my life or the lives of those I love.  Nope.  My brain is on another track this evening.  

Tonight, the writing life is under consideration.  There is a man I "met" on Facebook, a friend of one of my former professors, who is caring for his two elderly parents (think incontinence, dementia and wheelchairs) by himself.  Oh, and editing a non-fiction journal.  And writing a nonfiction book about eldercare.   He is simply impressive. I'm tremendously impressed by writers who write around, or perhaps the better word is through, distractions, who are able to write despite the tentacled fingers of life's demands tugging at them.  Of course we all have distractions, but there are some - such as sick, demanding, needy and helpless parents - that anyone must admit are more urgent than the demand to sit at a keyboard and write. 

Balancing real and perceived urgency - that is perhaps what I'm fascinated by these days.  The truth is that the satisfactions and rewards of writing are so distant when one is sitting at that keyboard.  My pleasure in the acts of creation and revision and reimagining - it is real.  But achieving that is dependent upon the ability to be immersed, even if only for brief periods, in the world of language and imagination.  It is a briny sharp pleasure to consider sounds and careful selection of words, searching for the word with the precise shade of meaning that is needed.  It is a kind of pleasure to consider the rhythms of language and construction of sentences, to weave with words, to paint with images and to make the imagined come alive and become real for the reader. 

It is difficult for my writing time to compete against the simpler exchanges of time for money, time for joy, time for the healthy glow of sweat from a workout.  We have to work through balancing those exchanges - writing competes because it is as important as those things.   As an artist, one must also believe that the work matters as much as the other worldly demands.   As a result, making time to write is, if you are a writer, an imperative.  Good.  Done and done.  Next challenge, please. 

Ah, but as with any good plot, what happens when we complicate this question further?  What if our writer has not one but three imperatives to juggle?  What if some of the imperatives are practical, such as money to pay the mortgage, and some feel like a commitment that cannot be breached?  Some writers would find a way to protect their writing time at all costs.  I admire them, but I am apparently not among them.  My writing time feeds my soul and keeps me centered and makes me feel as though my life has not jumped the rails entirely, and yet when my life's plot becomes more complicated, I let that time slip through my fingers, eaten up by the other things that tug more insistently, that I perceive to have greater urgency. 

As I've written before in these posts - my greatest difficulty is accepting that I can't do everything I want to do.  Our minutes and hours are actually finite.  Very annoying.  And somehow it is related, though I don't have words for it yet, this persistent thought that the element of urgency must be the strangest element of living with and caring for someone who is sick, or caring for an infant or a dependent parent.  Everything that they need is more urgent than your own needs.  It's hard to remember your own needs, let alone continue to prioritize something as ephemeral as writing prose.  

No answers this evening, only questions that I'm tossing out into the night air.  I miss my writing self, and for the first time in a long time, I am actually afraid I won't be able to find her again.  I'm pretty sure she's around somewhere.  She's often found putting together crazy playlists in iTunes, or sitting in the garden smelling green and blossoms and searching her brain for a better way to describe the surprising lemon-sweet lush scent of a rose.  If you see her, kick her ass and send her home.  I have work to do.

Best to all who happen this way. 


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Brushing off the Dust

My sister sent me an email several months ago.  When I read it, I smiled.  Ruefully.  She wanted to let me know that she would feel better about me, worry less about me, if she knew I had begun writing again. 

A few weeks later, one of my former students posed a question on his Facebook page that caught at my heart a little.  The question was:  is it more difficult to be a writer, or to be a writer who is not writing?  I replied that being a writer who was not writing was awful, and Toby asked me to clarify.  It took me a while to reply, and when I did, I did so carefully.  My reply was this:

Hey Toby - so I set this in my "tell Toby the truth" file, and am just now back here.

Yes - it is awful. It is always awful to be living in a way that does not align with your true self. I know that much of life is adjusting to what we cannot have, living happily in spite of that. But failing to do that which feeds your soul will break your heart in the thousand small ways that are hardest to repair.

So we have to find a way to balance the life-list of musts (pay the bills, etc) with the heart-list of musts (love, find things to marvel at in the world...and write).

So says the writer who is trying like hell to do just exactly that.

As with all things, babysteps.  My blog entries are an indication of my engagement with language and words - when they halt it is nearly certain I have stopped writing altogether.  So.  Apparently I am back to the keyboard with some intention.  And a lot of current material.  Ahem.

I'm taking a mindfulness meditation course at the Y led by a woman from the Cancer Treatment Center.  She repeats this sentence often, "Don't pull away but always go forward, toward the feelings and experiences you are tempted to avoid--and live fully."   Difficult advice these days, but necessary. 

Face a fear, embrace something you love and be gentle with yourself.

~ plk