Oct 17

The Stone That Builders Rejected

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Just now I was both excited and alarmed to see Catherine Newman has a new essay online. Excited because her writing is the way I write, her kids close in age to my kids, her brain in the same fire-alarm mode about our country. Alarmed because I’ll never be her. Instead I’ll be me, living in relative obscurity when my ego wants to live LARGE.

We’re not supposed to talk about writer jealousy, even when we’ve worked the crap out of our writer jealousy. Because the truth is I read everyone one of Catherine Newman’s words and they give me the balm I am seeking. I am overwhelmingly happy for her fame this morning. Probably because the world news and parenting and my work life has me so on edge that I’ve taken up meditating again. So I just finished listening to some Australian stranger tell me to breathe deeply for 9 minutes and 36 seconds. And I breathed deeply while simultaneously playing with my two dogs, because that’s the kind of Buddhist I am.

I’m half in and I’m half out. I’m the woman that says half of a Hail Mary and gets stuck on the word “sinners” every single time. Because I’m not there anymore: I’m not willing to call myself a sinner. I mean, I know, I know, I know, I sin all day long. But I’ve had to change it up, had to allow myself to be human. Because I was that girl who walked through the halls of her high school and worried about my Cheerio burps. I’d tell my mom later, “I burped and it smelled like Cheerios. Is that OK?”

I’d hear her sigh and then she’d reply, “Yes, you’re human.”

Oh, so human and not a sinner for reacting as a human again and again and again all day long. Last night I asked my husband just how in the heck are we supposed to respond to what’s going on in America right now. I mean, if I ignore the news and do nothing because my sanity is faltering, this feels wrong. But if I pay attention and freeze because it’s so upsetting, this feels wrong, too. He tells me we are supposed to bear witness and respond, write letters, do what we can.

But bearing witness lately is like having a million arrows shot into my already tense sciatica nerve. So last night I sat at my teen’s choir concert and let the music enter me. I let myself cry a bit. And I let the deep rumble of one song enter my feet and come up my shaken nerves. KK’s choir sang, “The stone that builders rejected has become the corner stone of a whole new world.”

I feel like so many of us are the stones that the builder rejected right now. We’re all like: me too, I was sexually assaulted, verbally assaulted, I was the other, not fitting in, scorned and hated on. We are the corner stones of a whole new world that will rise up. Even if it feels like instead there’s people in marble-encased offices who are right now trying to batter the crap out of us in hopes that we’ll take cover forever and never come out into the light of day again.

The stone that builders rejected has become the corner stone of a whole new world.

Take shelter. Meditate. Play with the dogs. Make the pizza dough with all white flour and relish the taste of it later tonight as you sit down to dinner.

Catherine Newman’s words this morning sit alongside the meditation that made me practice breathing while I played with my dogs.  I practice being the stone that the builder rejected, soaking in the love that’s nearby while I ponder the whole new world we’re surely going to make out of this mess. As a dear friend says, it’s going to take a lot of joy mixed with that anger to make change happen. Where’s your joy, friends, where’s your joy?

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Sep 22

What’s Better Than The Past? Everything.

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Last night I talked out loud while dreaming. I have no record of the sentences spoken, just my husband asking me what I was dreaming, did I know I was speaking?

I am speaking. I am speaking. Can you hear me?

I see the backs of people I used to love who love me no more. Can they hear me speaking of what used to be but is no more?

Why do we watch the door slammed shut when before us are those clouds that litter the sky with beauty?

Before us is car dancing and making our kids yell “Stop!” when we sing out of tune, them begging us to not keep talking about how much we love them. I will never, ever tire of pointing out your beauty to you.

My past sorts itself out in dreams and it’s so hard to pull myself out of bed. But I do. I do. I do because upstairs are two girls who’d rather sleep in. They’re waiting for my good mood which I’m making out of my bad mood. They are here. They are here. They are beautiful and they are waiting for me to tell them the truth.

The truth is there are red leaves on some of the trees outside and if I leave my bed, my desk, my table and walk outside I will see them. The color-saturated leaves will stand there, awaiting my eyes and my mouth and the way I point out their redness to my girls. Look at the clouds, I will say, aren’t they beautiful? They are.

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Sep 11

9/11

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Before 9/11, my 9/11 was the day I stepped off of a train into Seattle, a place I had never been but had decided to make my home. The skies were blue and I couldn’t believe I had randomly picked a place that was so beautiful to call home.

On 9/11, I was pregnant with my first child and I was terrified and stunned that I’d be bringing new life into a world like this one.

And now it’s 16 years later and that new life is almost 16. She’s gorgeous and smart and funny and calm and sometimes terrified and sobbing. She’s the most amazing creature who I’m lucky to know.

And the world is still terrifying. Every 9/11, I’m frightened that something equally as horrific will happen in the name of 9/11. And then I think of my friend Aletia. I think Facebook posted that it’s her birthday today. Well, it’s kind of her birthday as every fall the blue skies remind me of her strength in facing cancer while raising two girls. Now she’s no longer in this lifetime but often when I’m holding a pity party for myself, I think of Aletia. I see her standing at the K-8 school office. She’s trying to fill out a form and I ask if she needs help. I do, she says, cancer brain makes this hard. Those weren’t her exact words, but I was amazed at her strength, her ability to say yes, I need help. I need help raising my girls. I am going to fill out every school form even if it means I have to ask for help.

Help! The world is a terrifying and beautiful place. We all will face losses, some of them insurmountable; all we can do is surrender to what is. If we have as much grace as Aletia did, we’ll say, yes, I could use some help.

Perhaps this sounds all syrupy sweet. But the day we said goodbye to Aletia, I had a panic attack afterward when I was faced with going downtown to enjoy a Taylor Swift concert with my firstborn. My husband said, go early, here are the directions to the closest parking garage. Caroline and I drove downtown. The parking garage attendant noticed my anxiety and said, you get to park here, in this first spot that’s reserved for someone else. Caroline and I spent hours in the beautiful late summer/early fall sunshine, underneath blue skies, waiting for the concert to start. And when Taylor Swift took the stage, tears poured down my face. Aletia wasn’t here but she was so close and I knew how lucky I was to have helpers who helped me get to this place, watching Taylor Swift with my firstborn.

9/11, here you are. The sky is blue. The air is crisp and cool. Morning has broken. We are broken and whole all at the same time.

Taylor

 

 

 

 

Sep 06

Invincible Summer

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A friend of mine told me that when her mom was battling cancer she placed an Albert Camus poem on her bedroom door: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

Ahh, summer, your golden sheen has a timetable. Inside of us, we are strong and solid, standing up on a paddle board and learning how to navigate stroke by stroke. Even if we paddle in circles, we get to where we are going.

Where are we going? Back home to ourselves, again and again, to what is true and right. Our inner compass, our invincible summer sun. The families we are born to and the families we make out of kindred spirits. The same beaches. Or different beaches that we sit upon while telling others about that one beach, that lake you ran around while working at a summer camp one summer. The lake that dried up but still lives in your heart.

But still and yet, that heart, my heart, your heart, grandma’s heart, they begin to wear out. Those arteries that pump and push blood are not designed for forever time. Heck, they aren’t even designed for daily ice cream, even as we know ice cream is a soul food.

Wasn’t Camus the guy that wrote, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on”? Nah, that was Samuel Beckett. My brain is littered with words and someday I’ll be old and I’ll say to my kids, “’The moment of change is the only poem’ who said that?” And if I taught them anything, they will say, “Adrienne Rich.”

Then they might leave me and sit in a kitchen and eat some ice cream and talk about their mom that spews quotes all the damn time. How words are the way she makes meaning out of what can’t be understood. How the moment of change sometimes sucks.

We are here for such a short time, making sunlight on the most golden of summer days. And then we begin to leave, piece by piece.

What is left of us? A dog that follows your daughter-in-law around her house. Paintings of everything we saw and loved in this lifetime. Moments where we sat next to each other not saying anything, glad to be together.

We go on and we don’t go on. We leave buckets of baggies and bags of paper towels. Boxes of paper clips and notes in French. A note on a bedroom door that a daughter fully understands long after her mother passes from this life time. She tells me about it as I sit in her car outside of my daughters’ school, the sun beating down on the windows, us wondering how long our own invincible summers will last.

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Sep 05

I Am Myself

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“It doesn’t matter if the water is warm or cold if you are going to have to wade through it anyway.” -Pierre Teilhard Chardin

My Annie is a hesitant school attendee; her leaning issues makes her hours there more work. But we are on year 8 of K-8 school, 6th grade, and she’s more adept every fall.

To help her, I’ve been pushing the idea of a mantra for quite a long time now. Maybe she uses a mantra, maybe not. But when she is stressed, I want her to know she has it within her to get through those hard moments. So on our walk up to school, I often ask her what her mantra for the day is. I offer her an example, usually, “I’m awesome.”

I did that this morning and then asked her what mantra she would be using. She pushes back at this idea, mumbling about not needing one before telling me, “I am myself.”

I ask her if I can borrow that one. It reminds me of the professional who works with kids with ADHD and anxiety who I interviewed last week. He noted that everyone has anxiety, no one walks through this world without experiencing anxiety sometimes. We can find tools that help us do the tasks that come covered with a sheen of angst. But we are always ourselves, my Annie tells me. She’ll get through each hard moment as herself, and she is enough. I am myself. It is enough. Annie’s got this.

 

Aug 14

Loss Planning

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I haven’t figured out how to breathe into this newness. I thought I had planned for this reality: my teen gone on and off for most of 4 weeks. I mean, you can plan for loss, right?

Wrong.

The ache in my chest feels as real as my daughter’s empty room.

I thought if I planned enough fun together time for before she left, I’d be absolutely fine.

Fine enough, I guess, to be more-than-frustrated when my husband doesn’t quite get this physical ache in my chest.

Fine enough to need to weep and write my way through it.

Fine enough to feel a jarring hurt when my teen is home and she accurately and succinctly describes my habits. She says, “My mom has too high expectations. Then she’s disappointed.”

Ding. Zap. Ouch. I expected to sit in the quieter house and be glad it was cleaner without Caroline here. Well, sometimes I am glad for that fact. But yet and still, I’m feeling this physical ache and describing it in words in hopes of alleviating it a bit. Because the fact is denying it doesn’t make it better. Letting it out into the room and breathing alongside it feels as right as it’s going to feel.

It may feel ridiculous and overwrought to type out that I really feel the fact that life is often about loss. Loss even when we see the gain: My Caroline is gaining leadership skills at camp and having a super fantastic experience of a lifetime. I know working at a camp changed me for the better and I thank my lucky stars all the time that my mom let me spend almost an entire summer away from home.

But now I know a bit more about what her summer is like. Sigh. Growing up never ends and heartbreak is along for this lifetime ride. Whoosh. Just saying these things out loud makes it feel easier. Time to ride on.

 

Jul 31

Hunger

 

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I am alone and hungry.

I eat the leftover puff pancake cold and drink the temperate coffee.

I want to vacuum the whole house, remove the dust and debris that’s gathered in the months since we vacuumed. All of summer swept up into the vacuum bag, the record of time passing to be tossed in the garbage bin.

Instead work waits for me to start in on it, writing about meditation when my mindful brain wants to clear the clutter of our lives until we are ghosts in our home.

My eldest left for camp this morning without a hug goodbye, no wave from the car window, not one bit of yearning to stay home. I applaud her and feel the remnants of a punch to my gut all at the same time. I’m so relieved that she has finally left for the place she is supposed to be. I’m glad for my hours alone to get back to the articles that all should have been written last week. But the pull to vacuum until I only hear that loud noise that covers out the rest of the world is strong.

I’m hungry. I pull the bits of puff pancake apart and eat as I type, think about how my coffee is going cold. I understand why hormones and insatiable hunger make middle aged women’s stomachs grow rotund, full of change and sorrow shot through with a line of well-deserved gold.

I am alone and hungry.

 

Jun 26

The Music Plays On

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Love is the wallpaper I want to paste on my walls. I picture the print as gorgeous fleur-de-lis pattern, solid silvers and grey-blue swirls on an off-white background. So upstanding and righteous and out of reach. The way I would need to breath to keep that paper intact as I lifted it to my wall of glue seems complicated. Or maybe it’s my hands that are complicated, not steady, worried and anxious that these hands, my hands, don’t understand how to complete this task.

I guess I’ll do it anyway, figure out how to wallpaper my house in love, making a holy home with these hands. These hands, the ones passed down from my ancestors, their stories ingrained even if I wish my hands had no mysterious tales attached to them. It would be so much simpler to start fresh. No need to undo centuries of learning.

This breath that I am unsure of is exactly what I know I can count on. If the paper rips or my hands get stuck together with paste, this in-and-out that continues despite my best efforts to beat myself up. This breath will take those mistakes and bless them with new air. Those imperfections of mine line these walls.

Like the way my kids so easily recount my missteps. I can hardly breathe when they so easily remember what I rather they would forget. But how easily they remind me that people make mistakes. Love is stronger than I think it is, the pattern more complicated than even my big brain can imagine. Its swirls and eddies continuing to build into a symphony. The pattern like a lattice, a ladder, a scaffold that holds this holy home together. Solid silvers and grey-blue fluer-de-lis swirls on an off-white background, locked together with our breaths. In-and-out, leaving a pattern behind for the next generation.

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Jun 21

The Head & The Heart

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I practice telling myself my Annie’s problems are not problems until the phrase “not a problem” becomes a mantra. It’s a mantra I need because my brain loves to think I have many unsolvable problems. I’m not sure if this ability to see everything as crisis is genetic or learned. That I’m even wondering about this tells you how good my brain is at thinking.

Yesterday I met with a mindfulness teacher for an article I am researching. I asked her how mindfulness programs are different than the social-emotional learning (SEL) programs that schools have been using to teach kids about emotion regulation since the 1970s.

She points to her head and says, “SEL programs are about this.”

Then she points to her heart and says, “Mindfulness practices are about this.”

The head and the heart. SEL teaches how we can train our brain to regulate our emotions. Or the three steps to resolve a conflict with a friend. Mindfulness teaches us to get out of our heads and into our bodies. When we are in our bodies, we can explore and feel our feelings that way. After we unleash that emotion and really feel it in our bodies, then our brain is ready to practice the three steps to resolving conflict with a friend.

Boom. I flash back to a day when I was teaching my other daughter Caroline the very brainy task of getting along in a 3-person play date. She’s crying in the basement while her friends are way upstairs in her room wondering what is wrong. I ask Caroline how she is feeling. She doesn’t know. I tell her how she is feeling. I offer her choices of how to resolve the issue: send a friend home so there are two friends, or calm down and play with both friends. Or send both friends home. She yells that she doesn’t want to make a choice. She continues to cry. What the what? I thought this brain activity would work. Fine, I tell her, I’ll send a friend home and you can come play when you are calm.

I wondered if I modeled these brain activities for her if she’d follow suit and easily resolve all friendship issues from here on out. But yesterday while sitting with the mindfulness teacher who had placed her hand on her heart, I suddenly knew what that SEL practice was missing: my daughter’s hurt heart that needed time to cry and feel before she figured out what to do next.

We live in a what-to-do-next society. We read a headline and we are supposed to act. This week I read that a black woman was shot by the two policeman she had called for help. I wanted to act now to alleviate the trauma of what had happened, to make it never happen again. I wanted to hand out justice and hold the dead woman’s babies. I wanted my brain to make sense of what was happening. There is no sense. There is only my heart sadness and my body aches from the stressful world we live in.

I started meditating again this week after a break but before I met with this mindfulness teacher. I knew the news of the world was making my head and body hurt. I knew the fact that my Annie is having a hard time falling asleep was circling my brain until it started screaming, “Problem! Problem! Problem! How are you going to solve this problem?”

But if I just stop and listen and drop into my body, I can see that everything just is as it is and all my flurried rage at world news and my worry about my Annie’s sleeplessness get me nowhere. Breathing gets me back to me. My mantra of “not a problem” reminds me that my biggest task is loving my Annie when she can’t sleep. Yes, I can teach her tricks to drop down into sleep, but mostly I can tell her she’s not the first person to have trouble entering dreamland and this trouble is not a catastrophe. It just is. The night will come around every night. We can enter the dark gently together. We can start to meditate together before bed just like we used to do during her last bout of insomnia.

Not a problem. How’s your heart? Let’s get out of our heads. Whoosh. Yes, let’s.

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Jun 13

Summer Begins

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There is no rhythm to the summer schedule. Or if there is, it’s too tiny for me to hear it so soon. There is one small stone after another, some on the floor of the house, some in my pocket gathered from the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

It sounds so glorious to name drop a Strait, like I’m a world traveler or a geographer. I am neither. I am instead someone who hears time whizzing by my ears, my nervous energy enlarged by coffee. My need to slow down and listen is made greater by the deadline staring me down. I must write about marriage, and write about it well by the EOD. EOD as in end-of-the-day-deadline.

Meanwhile, June continues. The air, cool and heavy with pollen. One daughter still asleep, another off babysitting with her cold in tow. A husband who would say work continues all summer long, his schedule not so different except for the outdoor activities he crams into the hours outside of work.

How do I listen to the tiny sounds? How do I settle my racing pulse to match the needs of my work and the wants of my body to climb into these days and own them? Last night I canceled a walk with friends, instead holding fast to my family of four. Yes, I was tired but it was more to be with my family. I keep trying to catch up with what I really want. What do you really, really want?

I really, really want to gather those moments where my rhythm slows down enough to take in the weather around me and really feel it on my body while surrounded by the people I love best. Like I did this past Sunday: I lay in the sun atop a gunnery at Fort Worden as the sun seeped into my skin, my family close by. For a while, my husband’s head settled on my legs and nothing else mattered.

Maybe right now that EOD deadline matters, but I can’t get there until my pulse slows down and I enter right now. Perhaps this is why I started meditating again this morning after a break. Because if I sit still and remember how that sun felt seeping into my body, I have small chance of being here now again and again and again. It feels like fooling time, this trick. Or maybe I just need to stop drinking coffee. I bet that would help, too. Let’s give that idea the triple ha-ha-ha, as my teen would say. Ah yes, my salty brain thoughts say keep the coffee, up the meditation, and hang on for whatever comes next. Let’s go.

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