Sunday, August 21, 2016

Middle-of-the-Night Thoughts

Photo courtesy of William Warby/Flickr

It's 2 o'clock in the morning.

I'm lying in bed and my brain is muttering about all the things I need to do.


  • Contact Lily's school about withdrawing.
  • Contact Lily's new school about registering.
  • Find a preschool for Jovie.
  • Find a doctor's office for everyone.
  • What about Lily's dance class?
  • Get the permit for the garage sale this weekend. 
  • What if they hate it? 
  • What if we move and then get evicted and are homeless?
  • What if life doesn't work out as planned?
  • Wait, what was the plan again? 

The list grows like Jack's beanstalk as does my anxiety. I can feel the hairs on my head turning white. My stomach cramping. How will all of this get done in two weeks*?

I'm so tired. I need sleep. Sleep will make this better. Sleep will make this more manageable.


Go to sleep. Go to sleep.


I can't go to sleep. Did you see the list? All the things. I feel my brain whirring like the computer does when it's trying to cool down. 


I grab at calming thoughts. Soothing, sleepy, chamomile thoughts. 


Deep breathing isn't working. The sheep aren't working.


I land on that Syrian boy. The one from Aleppo who's Internet famous this week because his house was bombed by his own government. Not the one whose body washed up on a beach last summer. The boy who lived. Omran Daqneesh. The dusty, bloodied 5 year old with the dazed stare and the bare feet and short legs. 


His mother probably isn't worried about kindergarten registration at this moment. The media just reported his 10-year-old brother, Ali, has died. Killed as a result of the same bombardment that put that otherworldly gaze on his brother's face. 


No. No need to worry about school registration. Are there any schools left in Aleppo? Or, doctor's offices? I hear they've all been forced underground, hiding out from attacks, as they frantically attempt to patch people back together. 


A bomb just evicted Omran's mother and her children. My vague, pointless fears are already her reality. 


What a luxury for me to entertain the worst in the middle of the night. On my bed, in my room, in my still-standing house.


"It's all relative." 


I always tell my friends this when we're swapping stories about the stress of the day. This one's baby is still not sleeping through the night and she feels like a zombie and it's awful. And another is struggling with health issues she's still not received any clear answers on and it makes her feel (at times) like an enraged zombie (if such a thing were possible) and it's awful. And I'm here in the middle of my house, which in the span of just four days has become a place of empty shelves and stacks of boxes with that never-ending list. And it's awful, too. 


We are all struggling.


"Life is hard sometimes, isn't it Mom?" Lily consoles me after my nth outburst of the day.


She doesn't even know. 


And I don't even know. Not really. Omran tells me otherwise.

The boy who will forever be remembered for this tragedy than celebrated for his contributions. His childhood and self-actualization annihilated. 


Comparing one's misery is a dangerous game. It can easily lead us down this path of dissatisfaction and resentment. 


"It's all relative," I tell my friends to avoid the comparisons. The one upping. Life is hard at times in a general sense. And our own erratic, fidgety neurosis makes it harder for us, as individuals, to get a grip on it. 


The airing of grievances is important, I think, to make us feel less lonely, which is why I will listen to all grievances any time of day or night. 


Even at 12:30 a.m. when Jovie's bed is too lumpy and bumpy to sleep on.


We all just want to be heard.


But the celebrating of grievances is fatal to our growth. And I have to remind myself of that all the time and this week especially when I feel like the weight I'm carrying is much larger than my mind and my body can manage. I'm burnt out and anxious, sure. But, I'm OK. I'm alive. And I have a roof over my head (and almost another roof over my head). And my kids are healthy enough to drive me bananas, which is to say, extremely healthy. My husband is so kind to me. And he has a good job. And I have various good jobs. The dog isn't barking. The cat hasn't thrown up on the kitchen table ... yet.


It's after 2 o'clock in the morning. I'm lying in bed and balling up all the thoughts -- all that energy my brain has been generating. I strain out the anxiety and transform it into love and send it across Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware, and across the Atlantic and through Spain and Greece and Across the Mediterranean to Syria where I'm hoping it wraps around Omran as a blanket. 


I'm still awake. But it feels more purposeful.


I wonder if Omran's mother thinks it's relative, too. But on this one, I'd say, with tears in my eyes, she wins. 


* Yeah. Two weeks. Remember the last post where I was bemoaning uncertainty? Well now there's a bit more certainty. We found a house in Virginia and are signing a lease. And because of the start date for schools down there and prior obligations to life up here, we are scrambling to move by Labor Day. Why the hell am I blogging right now when I should be doing all the things? Because pausing is important. It's the only place we get to find each other. And sharing the love is way more important than all the things anyway.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dispatches From a Mental Vestibule

Photo courtesy of Paul Chiorean/Flickr
Confession: I haven't been writing a whole lot of fiction lately. Or really any fiction – except for maybe the lies I tell myself about how any day now I'll get back into querying agents for that novel. Or how I'll really buckle down on editing the manuscript for a children's picture book I wrote back in January. Or how I'll open up a new Word Doc and start writing anything for this other story idea I have, which was inspired by roadkill.

Inspired By Roadkill should be the name of a band, by the way.

My writing life feels as if it's in limbo. 

So when it got to be July and the deadline for the YorkFest literary competition I'd entered the past couple years was nearing, I didn't really feel like I had anything worth entering. 

But I'd really enjoyed the experience of mingling with artists and writer sorts and kinda sorta feeling a part of the community. OK, and it's kind of nice having someone affirm your work in a public way. And it's just plain fun to read your work in front of an audience. And it motivates me to write more (I know, I know, it's kind of pathetic and unnecessary).

And this year I felt like I really needed to send something in. 

Because it's probably the last year I'll enter something.

Because at some point in the near future my family's moving.

I don't even really want to discuss leaving York. In fact, reading that last sentence is making me tear up. (And this for a place I moved to at 23 and swore up and down I'd never stay in for more than a couple years.)

Let's not just talk about the leaving thing for the time being shall we?

So the deadline for this contest is nearing and I don't have anything to enter, but I'd really like to enter something so on a whim I grabbed a post I was kind of proud of from this very blog and sent in on in. 

Then I waited. I waited until around when I'd heard back from the YorkFest folks in years past. And nothing. And I waited for a couple weeks after that. And nothing.

Then I decided to be disappointed. I wasn't crushed, just bummed. I thought sharing one last story in York might be a nice way to say goodbye. Even though we don't really know when goodbye would be.

I guess my writing life isn't the only thing that's in limbo right now. 

So here's the story behind that. Back in May, Brad accepted a job with Gannett, which is headquartered in McLean, Va. Two hours away.

Despite the fact that I grew up in Northern Virginia and still have family down there (I know all about NOVA's giant malls and horrific traffic and obscene real estate prices), I've been tentative about returning. Why? Did you read the stuff in parentheses? You can't just skip the stuff in parentheses!

We've kind of created this Band-Aid solution for the new job which involves a lot of extra driving for Brad and a lot of extra parenting for me. It's not ideal and we recently decided we needed to stop trying to keep our feet in two different states. It's time to move on.

So we're looking for a place to rent. With our two kids, two cats, one barky dog and five and counting fish (they keep reproducing). You can imagine how easy hunting for a rental has been.

It's felt as if we've been living this kind of suspended life for the past three months and even though we finally made the decision to move, everything still feels so murky. I can't see what life looks like next month or the one after. 

Where will we be? What will it look like? Where will the girls go to school? Will I make friends? Will the commute murder Brad's will to live? Will we feel as if we'd made the right decision?

This murkiness has kind of taken over. I don't feel as if I can settle into my current life, because that door is closing. And the next door hasn't really opened yet. I'm just skulking in this mental vestibule. 

I don't really feel like being social because, what's the point? Anyway, who has the time?

Lately it feels as if I'm squeezing the life out of every millisecond of the day – what with the parenting and the working and running around to return overdue library books and make sure the doctor's office has filled out the right paperwork for kindergarten registration and the calling of handymen to fix that window in the bathroom and searching Zillow every five minutes for an updated list of rental homes and the packing. All the packing. 

The packing and the sorting and the throwing away. 

How strange it is to be stuck in a mental vestibule sorting through the ephemera of your past to get ready for the uncertainty of your future. 

It feels like some sort of joke. 

Here's the person you were – as written in the boxes of journals and pictured in self portraits dating back to 9th grade. All those youth soccer patches I'd collected, the beads for all the beading I am probably never going to do, the cassette tapes of all the Lilith Faire-headlining singer-songwriters I will never listen to again, the M&M wrappers I'd saved with the intention of making some delightfully tacky craft item of some sort, and the college notebooks I'd saved in case I ever wanted to brush up on the politics of the Middle East or the long literary tradition of Arthurian Legends. 

And then here's the person you are, all slouchy, grumpy and defeated, debating whether I should keep the patches, deciding to throw away the M&M wrappers and notebooks. Because you can't take it with you. Especially if you don't know where you're going.

As for the person you will be – who knows? But right now, in this pile of sentimental misery, you're not even sure you want to know her.

But here's the other weird thing about being stuck in a mental vestibule. Life goes on. 

Even as you're sifting through the past to prepare for the unknown your family still gathers for a wedding where your 4 year old dances her (excuse the expression) ass off. Your nephew with all the swagger in the universe turns 7. The sunflower you planted in April finally blooms. 

The little baby you brought home to this very house gets ready to start kindergarten.

As it turns out life is a time capsule and a freight train and a vestibule all at once. 

Sometimes immobile but always evolving. The change you're chasing is already happening.

As my sister Laura wrote me so eloquently last week, "God has intentions and they are good. I believe that he knows exactly how to piece a puzzle for a perfect picture...even if we are a nebulous, tiny, inner piece."

Oh, on Wednesday I got an email. That piece I'd submitted back in July won first place for nonfiction prose. 

I'm glad one of my nebulous tiny pieces involves the chance to share one more story with a city I've come to love and call home. 

If you're around at 7 p.m. Aug. 26, stop by the Agricultural and Industries Museum in York to check out some fantastic art and listen to great storytellers.

Monday, July 25, 2016

In search of beauty



A couple of weeks ago the tenor in the household was ... shrill.

It was around 5 o'clock (always a challenging time of day). The girls were exhausted, but paradoxically, were racing around the house screaming at high pitches, bumping into things, crying about bumping into things, recovering, and then screaming, running, bumping and crying some more.  But then we were gifted with this tropical shower -- you know when it's sunny and the rain comes down in millions of fat drops and it seems as if diamonds are pouring from the sky. 

"Put on your shoes, girls! We're going for a walk!"

They protested because it was rainy. And because it was hot. And because it would be so boring. And the walk would take forever.

I ignored it all.

We trekked outside as the rain ebbed, I scanned the sky for magic. 

"Girls! Look! A rainbow!"

Their whines and groans transformed into oohs and ahhs. They jumped in puddles and came home better versions of themselves. We all did.

Being outside, being in the natural world (even if it's just the natural world creeping up between all the little brick ramblers and cape cods in our little neighborhood next to the interstate) – being here is transformative. 

I've been thinking about that this week – nature's ability to calm and soothe us. To minimize massive worries. To give us the chance to marvel and wonder from a very deep, primitive place.

Then, of course, we are part of nature. All things that are not human-made, are right? As much as we'd like to believe we owe our existence to ourselves, it's just not the case. We are borne from the same place as trees and butterflies and rainbows, even.

Returning to nature is going home. 

I've been ruminating on the nature of beauty, too. And the beauty of nature. How nature is always beckoning us to look closer, enticing us with these little jeweled gifts. The obvious ones like the perfect, endless symmetry of cornflowers and the ethereal grace of a swallowtail. But in less obvious places, too. The dried husk of an allium flower. The iridescent wings of a crow. or the intricate lace of the earth frozen solid.


We are desperate for this beauty, I think. 

On the ledge of the kitchen sink I keep a collection of small things I've found outside. Little pine cones, a starfish and bouquets of chicken feathers the girls and I gather at the barn. Our black-eyed susan's and coneflowers are in bloom right now and last week the girls handed me a bundles of them (roots and all), which I trimmed down and stuck in a miniature vase my mom gave me for such occasions. 

The trouble is, this new cat we have has a thing for flowers, well, and feathers for that matter. He's knocked over my bouquet at least five times. And each time I stubbornly refuse to give up on my flowers. This is their time to bloom and I want it to last as long as it can. 

"God damn cat!" I yelled at Pretzel last week as he knocked over the flowers yet again, breaking this beautiful soap dish my parents gave me yet again (thank god for Gorilla glue).

"He's not a damn cat!" Lily admonished me. 

She's right. He's just a cat being a cat. Just like me, seduced by green things. 

I told her I shouldn't have said what I said. And that damn (though used in context!) was not a particularly nice word. And that roping God into it wasn't especially kind either.

Nature and beauty are only good for us when we don't covet it. It's for all of us. Even Pretzel the cat.

I think this is why I seek out the farm. Why I never dread waking up on frigid winter mornings or hazy, humid summer mornings to pick stalls and wrangle fussy pigs. There, nature explodes. It's bunnies hopping across the lane and red-winged black birds whistling in the rain garden and barn swallows swooping around the rafters and geese splash landing in the pond. It's all varieties of fauna sprouting from the refuse of the barn. It's the smell of hay and even the smell of manure and the mumbling of chickens punctuated by the melodies of songbirds. It's all the little surprises -- tiny mushrooms sprouting outside Pete's stall and a toad holed up in the pile of sawdust. 



There's such wealth here. And it's shared wealth, you know? There's enough for all of us to partake and to celebrate.

Sometimes I feel as if humans are much too proud of how separated we are from nature. You know first we harnessed fire, then we figured out the wheel and then there was electricity down the road from that. Our frontal lobes forever solving problems that further separate us from ourselves and from the world around us.

I'm not ungrateful for all the things that have allowed us to live these comfortable lives. This week I'm especially grateful for things like central air conditioning, for Nick Jr., which allowed me to sleep in a little this morning and for the internet, even, which allows me to share my ideas and soak in the beautiful ideas of others with ease. 

It's when we allow our ability to create all these amazing machines to justify our dominion and superiority over nature and each other, that I feel wary. I'd much rather be a steward to this place, you know? 

Yesterday, I drove up to State College for a lovely day with friends. Route 322 west of Harrisburg takes you between these tall ridges near the Susquehanna and Juanita rivers. It's a beautiful drive, and one that makes you feel a little slight. I started thinking about how small I felt, and then I thought about how on the scale of Pennsylvania, a little two-hour road trip through some tired old mountains wasn't all that significant. And that on the scale of the U.S. stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic with much larger mountains in between, it was even less significant. And that on the scale of the Earth ranging from Everest to the Marianas Trench, well, I was kind of like an ant trying to scale a modest-sized rock. Here I was, this little speck swallowed by this massive planet.

Before I started mentally spinning out into the cosmos, I grounded myself. "You are part of all of this," I told myself. Because we are. And we all serve and Earthly purpose. And also, I think, a universal purpose. 

We are both significant and insignificant at once. Both the ant and the colossus at any given moment.

My Dad and I were emailing back and forth a bit about our mutual fascination with the universe. Dad's a kinda retired aerospace engineer who enjoys reading up on particle physics, dark matter and quantum mechanics in his spare times. So his understanding of the universe is a bit more expansive than my own. I love his explanation for why he is so passionate about the topic:
"My interest in the universe is that I think understanding it allows us to understand more of the creator. The amazing attention to the tiniest detail when working in such large dimensions is far beyond our capacity so I think that the more we slowly learn about it we come closer to looking into the eye of the Lord. (Compare the elaborate detail of the DNA structure in cells to the massive planets that orbit the sun - the large and small are finished to elaborate detail and perfection in order to work as they do)."
I heard something recently about how beauty is a core moral value in Islam. ... OK, OK, yes, it was something else from "On Being." (Yes, I'm obsessed.) In an interview shortly after 9/11, Muslim jurist and author Khaled Abou El Fadl shared his thoughts:
"Beauty is to fall in love with God, to fall in love with the Word of God, with the Qur'an, to read it and to feel that it peels away layers of obfuscation that I have spent numerous times building around myself. Beauty is to look around me and fully understand and feel, therein is God, in all that I see around me — and to understand my place in this, that I am integral as God's viceroy, as God's agent on this Earth, like everyone else. And at the same time, that I am wonderfully irrelevant."
So here we are in this place today. So desperately in need of the beauty that is right here in front of us if we only look up from our screens and outside of our own experience. The beauty that will bring us closer to our creator (or Creator) and closer to each other. 

Look up. Look up. 

You will find rainbows.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Finding the Light One Weird Moment at a Time

Photo courtesy of Nigel Howe/Flickr

So, I don't know if you've stopped by the internet recently, but man. It's not pretty.

And it's not so pretty, it seems, outside the confines of pixels and bytes. The real world  feels as if it's caught on fire. Or maybe it's that the embers of old aches have been stirred and stoked into a growing inferno.

It's been a rough week for black Americans (you know, relatively speaking). And a rough week for law enforcement (also relatively speaking). A rough week all around for America.

I've felt this pall of hopelessness blanketing my shoulders. In conversations with friends and family, there's this sense of paralysis. Like we hate what's happening, we yearn for change. But we have no idea where to begin.

Where do we begin with this mess?

I circle around this question multiple times a day. Every time I read the next piece of commentary. Hear the next piece of bad news. 

How can I help clean up this mess? 

I come back to the idea of healing the world that touches me.

And I come back to love.

The problems feel massive. And the solutions. What are the solutions? There seem too many or too few to count.

In order to avoid getting poisoned by the venom of despair and lulled into depression and inaction. I cling to this idea that what I can do doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't have to change the world in one sitting. 

Healing the world is like raising children. It's ongoing. It's unending. It's all the time. 

You invest your heart and energy tackling these menial, sometimes infuriating tasks day in and day out. Repeating the same lessons and the same lines over and over again for  years and years  "We must be kind to one another." "We must treat people who we want to be treated." "

We must be kind." 

"We must be kind."

And the fruits of your labor come in the smallest of moments. When your daughter insists we pick up an extra cookie for her sister at home or when your kids start picking up trash in the park unbidden, acting as if they're on the world's greatest treasure hunt.

It's not as if I don't have designs for grander gestures, for making bigger impacts. I look at changing the world as building muscle mass. Right now is about strength training. How many times can I connect with people – friends, neighbors or strangers – in a meaningful, genuine way?

Even if it's just eye contact and a smile at the checkout. 

Even if it's just making sure to say hi (or at least smile) to everyone (and I do mean everyone) I pass in a day. 

Even if it's finding more opportunities for silliness in the world – letting the girls ride the cursed car cart at the Home Depot and racing it through the parking lot making engine noises, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs while we're stuck in traffic on the Baltimore beltway. 

It's not much. Not really. But I've always appreciated public displays of goofiness. It reminds me of the lightness of life. The joys of being a living, sentient being on this beautiful Earth. It reminds me to be lighter. To be light. When I witness this in other people it helps my soul float. And it makes me want to be more glow-y in turn. To spread the light. 

I know how all this sounds. It's a little, let's be honest, hokey. A little Kumbaya. I don't mean to make trivialize anything. 

I know just being nice and a little weirder than normal, won't be the thing that solves the issues plaguing us today. I'm not naive.

But it's something I can do now in the life I'm living. And by doing it I don't feel so powerless. By doing it I feel as if I'm becoming stronger.

In "Big Magic," Elizabeth Gilbert shares this story:

"I have a friend who's a nun who has spent her entire life working to help the homeless of Philadelphia. She is something close to a living saint. She is a tireless advocate for the poor and the suffering and the lost and the abandoned. And do you know why her charitable outreach is so effective? Because she likes doing it. Because it's enjoyable for her. Otherwise it wouldn't work. Otherwise it would just be hard duty and grim martyrdom. But Sister Mary Scullion is no martyr. She's a cheerful soul who's having a wonderful time living out the existence that best suits her nature and most brings her to life. It just so happens she takes care of a lot of other people in the process – but everyone can see her genuine enjoyment behind the mission, which is ultimately why her presence is so healing."

So what is it that you enjoy doing? And how can you share that light without feeling like a martyr to your cause. Without feeling overwhelmed by what you haven't done?


***

A month or so ago I was taking a walk with the girls down my street.

One of my neighbors drove passed, turned around in their driveway and came back to us.

They told me there was a shady looking man wandering around on the next block. They wanted to give me a heads up in case I wanted to change direction.

We'd never really interacted with these neighbors other than to wave or say, "Trick or treat."

They live on the opposite side of the street from us, a few doors down.

I was so touched by their gesture.

How they looked out for the girls and me. Strangers, really.

I thought I'd bake cookies for them to say thank you. But then I thought it might be weird. 

This weekend I thought about my neighbors again. They're one of the only black families living on my block. Which feels like a funny thing to type ... because, well, we're supposed to be colorblind or something? I guess that isn't really working out for us anyway ... but there you have it. 

They have a son, Harold, who's 17. I met him one day while he was walking to his job at the grocery store near our house. I offered him a ride because I was heading over there. He was soft spoken (or maybe he just thought I was weird ... and too chatty. Both of which are true). 

I thought about how terrifying it must be to be Harold's parents  – Harold's mother – with the siege of headlines today. 

I decided to bake some cookies. I told Brad I was going to drop them off at the neighbors with a thank you note. And he gave me this knowing smile.

I pressed him on it. And he gently suggested that I keep the interaction simple.

See, because he could sense the monologue I would've delivered to this family about how sorry I was about the past week. About how, while I couldn't understand what it was like to be black in America today, I did understand what it was like to be a parent and worry about the safety of your children. How I wanted to help things get better. 

It would've been too much. My nice neighbors didn't need to be burdened by my guilt, my worry I think. 

So I just wrote a simple note thanking them for their kindness ... apologizing for the delay ... and dropped it off with their daughter. Chocolate chip cookies probably taste better with gratitude than with awkward interactions with that weird neighbor down the street.

I hope, anyway, that the door was opened for more conversations down the road.


***
Finally, this week, I kind of felt like I wanted to add some silliness to the internet. 

First, the funniest book I've read in a long time, "The day The Crayons Came Home," by Drew Dawalt and Oliver Jeffers. 

For those of you who don't know, I hate peas. It's not just that I hate them, they make me vomit if I eat too many. So I try not to eat too many. It felt like a major victory when I read this part and found that I'm not alone:





And then Lily. Who is wonderful and ridiculous and who has been known to steal my phone and take numerous selfies.



Embrace your weird, goofy selves. The world will be better for it.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Diving back in



Children in the water are such happy, ridiculous little things. Splashing and spitting and sputtering all slippery and floppy. Their teeth chatter as they insist they aren't cold, because they suspect that if they get out there's a chance they might not be allowed to get back in again. And that would be the absolute worst. So the only solution is to stay in forever. Practicing flips and suffering the stinging, wavy vision of water-logged goggles that pull at their hair and make that bone behind their ears ache. 

There are so few things I would tolerate as an adult that children tolerate for the love of swimming. They'll put up with all manners of discomfort in order to remain buoyant and wet. It's kind of like parenthood, in a way. Accepting all the minor annoyances – the ears filled with water, the snot trails, the goosebumps, the hair that's impossible to comb – dealing with all these things for the opportunity to experience childhood all over again. It's always surprising. Always evolving. The joys here and gone like the tiny, blinking fireflies you chase after you've dried off.

I used to be the person who jumped in first. Not worrying about the cold or how terrible the bathing suit looks or that I'm the sole mom in the water because at some point it was decided that only dads got in the pool. 

How did that become the normal? 

I want to be brave enough to be the mom flipping and splashing and flopping around in the water. 

The last day at the beach when the waves were so big, Lily begged me to dive into one. 

"Do a flip in a wave, Mom!" Her eyes were so big and glittering – like if I did that one thing I would be her hero. The mermaid mom. I did it for her that one time. And because the waves were coming so fast again and again -- I got worried I might not be able to get back to the beach just yards away -- so the adventure became more about the return than the moment.

I just started reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic: Creating Living Beyond Fear." I've been avoiding creative living for this precise reason. Fear. And I have to say it's been really nice not having the pressure of "that novel I'm working on" crashing down on me wave after wave. Of course, it's also rather empty and kind of disappointing, too. I'm letting myself down. 

But not letting myself down and addressing my right brain all over again feels so daunting. Like releasing a box of butterflies into your home and marveling at how beautiful your living room looks until you remember that butterflies don't belong in living rooms and all the sudden you have to gather them all up for fear that they'll die or that you'll wake up in the middle of the night, your face covered in butterflies and somehow it's not nearly so charming anymore.

This metaphor might need some work.

The point is, allowing my creative mind to fly free also means I have new responsibilities, too. The caring and feeding of all the little ideas that flutter forth. 

Last time I did this with the hope that one of them would end up being, like, a champion Monarch when, really it ended up just being a Viceroy. A pale imitation. Well, at least according to the (OK rather limited) response I got from literary agents. 

It stung. Like, a lot. If I may introduce some more insect comparisons here, it felt like the time the wheel bug I was rescuing from a spider's web bit my index finger. I will now proceed with great caution (if at all) for any future wheel bug extractions. 

I do miss the magic though. The spark of an idea. The power of epiphany and those cathartic moments that are allowed to exist because they're finally given words and space. This creative void probably should never have been called a void. The stuff of creation is still swarming around in me, I suppose. The void was really the sadness of rejection. The feeling that I wasn't of this community that I'd hungered to be a part of. 

That it was all a dream.

But what are dreams anyway? Sometimes, they're the place where ideas attempt to break through the monotony of every day. And there is so much of that right now – monotony  Treadmilling. No space for dreaming. Though I have allowed plenty of space for excuses. Like the one that I'm getting older and should've already achieved a certain amount of success in order to make it as a writer. 

I just finished reading "Becoming Wise" (so much wisdom). And one piece of wisdom I gleaned from it is that in order to become wise, you can't talk yourself out of embarking on a new adventure. It's about accepting the journey will be both painful and joyful (potentially in equal amounts). But that the joy will help you forget the pain of it and that you will come out on the other side stronger, wiser and truer to yourself.

Like jumping into cold water. 

Where is the little girl who swam until her toes were prunes? 

Better yet, how can I get mermaid mom to dive into some more waves? 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The answer is love


We're on vacation. Lugging all of our beach gear down to the shore the other day I see the flags are at half staff and I'm reminded of the 30 ... no ... 50 men and women murdered at that nightclub in Orlando. 

And my heart feels the weight of grief and ugliness and division bearing down on us. 

Orlando. I've never been there before. All I know of Orlando is that Disney World is down there. And Shaq. 

In my head Orlando is this pre-fab, plastic paradise that's home to talking mice and candy-colored annuals arranged into brand logos and pastel pants and fanny packs. It makes me think of that scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," where the knights are preparing to go to Camelot and then the Knights of the Round Table song plays and then the on says, "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place."

I've always thought of Orlando as kind of a silly place.

Though not this week.

There doesn't seem to be much silly about Orlando. It's lost its glitter. That innocent luster. As it turns out, it's just like the rest of the other places all bloodied by hate.

I'm at the beach, and I want to do something. To say something. To remind myself and my family and all the other vacationers that our lives are so precious and we need to stand by one another and stand up for one another. Hate seems like such wasted energy.

But I'm just little me. And we're all here on these nice vacations on this bright, sunny day. Orlando is probably on all our minds, but for this moment, we don't want it on our lips.

Despite that, I craved this moment of reflection. It was the least I could do on this day as the flag fluttered so mournfully. The very least.

I traced "love" in the sand with my fingers. But it didn't stand out enough. So I filled in the outlines with small stones I collected from the shoreline. Gathering the stones and filling the outline was a meditation. Digging through the sand, finding ones big enough, filling in the outline. Digging some more. I did this for a half hour ... maybe and hour. I'm not sure how long. It became a bit of an obsession.

I ruminated on the word love. 

I wrote it, because anything else in the sand seemed to long.

Love is short and simple.

I realized as I was writing love that it is something we should be doing every day. Every minute of every hour of every day even. And if we all did this the best we could, as often as we could the tide might start to shift.

We can write love with whatever supplies we have on hand. 

Write love with pens and pencils, with bytes and words and with paint and canvas. Write it with dancing and skipping and with smiling and giggling. Write it with hugs and kisses and with waving, shaking, holding hands. Write it with random acts of kindness and forced acts of kindness (because kindness isn't always easy on angry days). 

Write love to the people you love. And write love to the people you hate.

Write love by consoling. By supporting. By standing up for and standing by and standing sentinel. 

Write love by being present and alive.

Write love with gratitude.

And if there is nothing else, write love with sand and stones. 

Write it obsessively, compulsively and thoroughly.

The tide came in, even as I wrote love. 

And so I realized that we have to write love knowing it will be washed away at the next high tide. It is impermanent, so we have to write it again and again. In big letters and small letters. In big gestures and small gestures.

Love can't be legislated. It belongs to us. And it's up to us to use it to make the change we're aching for. 

And it it starts with writing love. Branding it in our hearts and on our brains so that it's our first instinct. Love over fear. Love over hate. Love over and over.

By the time we leave, the word Love has been washed away, leaving only a few stray stones and the impression that it once existed there. 

I'll just have to write it again tomorrow.

Because that is the only answer. The only remedy. The only solution to this dark terror. 

Steadfast, ephemeral, mighty, delicate, world-changing, universe-building love. Over and over again.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

When humble warrior helps center the universe

Earth, as seen underneath Saturn's rings.
Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Tonight's yoga class was a struggle. From start to finish. I was shaky and off balance and couldn't get a grip on my mat from all the sweat rolling off my underused body.

I found myself going toward a place of frustration and defeat, which would've only made the rest of the practice futile. It's so hard to find your center when you're busy telling yourself you're failing.


Then our instructor had us take this pose with one leg stretched out behind and the other stretched at an angle in front. Our hands were clasped behind our backs, our chests pointed skywards.


I didn't know what to do with my head, so I held it up. But the instructor told us our head should hang low and heavy. 


This is humble warrior, she said. Our heads should be bowed to the ground with our hearts raised skyward. 


"You can bow to your body. Or to the practice," she said. 


So I did. Head hanging low toward the Earth. Heart raised to the heavens. Bowing to enlightenment.


Because I experienced some of that.


Now, this is going to probably sound a little hokey to those non-yogi sorts among you (and potentially to those of you who've ever omed or Namasted or groaned getting out of half-pigeon) but the pose felt profound. It felt like a lesson. One of those rare moments of clarity about how to live more fully. 


Humility. From the Latin words humilitas and humilis, meaning "grounded" or "from the earth." (*cough* at least according to Wikipedia *cough*).


Lowering my head to the ground allowed me to be mindful of my roots. To acknowledge I am limited and impermanent. Something my brain encumbered by pride and ego and self-importance needs to be reminded of constantly. 


That's part of the human condition, right? Being the centers of our own universes. 


But the beautiful part of humble warrior, is that to balance out this moment of vulnerability and insignificance, your heart is raised toward the vastness of the universe. Opening itself up to the beauty of all that is and was and will be.  


It was this perfect limbo. The brain will not always allow you to find what the heart sees so readily. 


Faith. I mean that has to be what faith is right? Quieting your roaring psyche for the grace that comes with knowing you are who, who you are - no more, no less. (I'm rediscovering Pearl Jam. That guy knows what I'm talking about).




Humility is not a quality we seem to value much in the U.S., at least on a national level. We're raised to seek higher incomes and bigger houses. The things we do to unwind often results in a competition with ourselves and each other to run faster and harder and longer. To be better than the best. We don't find joy in the doing, so much. Just in the finish line. And when we can't make it to the finish line in time – we berate ourselves for failing rather than celebrating that we tried.


The people we tend to put our faith in, to put our trust in, to look up to as leaders and role models – they're not exactly humble. At least that I can see on the public stage. They know our attention spans are short and our humors easily swayed by things that are bigger, louder, flashier, more shocking. The things that allow us to raise pitchforks and wave torches at the next parent who allows their child to fall into a gorilla enclosure. So intoxicated are we by rage and self-righteousness, we often forget our own humiliation. The hard lessons we've had to learn.


But I think humility is alive on a smaller scale. I see it around me, in the thoughtfulness of my neighbors and in the sweetness of strangers. And maybe there's a reason for that. By its nature, humility is lowly, unobtrusive, meek, reserved. Asking for a huge act of humility seems like it might be an oxymoron.


At a cosmic level, the Earth is just a speck. And we're just the dust occupying that speck. So, I don't know, maybe its not too much to ask that we all try to embody the greatness of humility.


Tonight, as a balanced on the verge of falling, humbled by the enormity of existence, my heart felt as vast as the universe.


It's a relief to know I don't know a whole lot – I come across more mysteries that way. And can appreciate the questions just as much, if not more than, the answers. 


I continued to stumble and teeter for the remainder of my practice. Even falling on my face attempting a handstand. The only difference was, after humble warrior, I smiled and laughed about it. Sometimes you just need to let gravity win.