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what i learned on monday

You can show kindness to anyone, anytime.

You can take a graceful leap over a puddle and dance with rush hour.

You can love both when it does and does not matter.

But you simply will not, cannot, return your library books on time.

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too many books

I want to write everything down, so as not to forget, not to lose the pages of shattered bones and missteps, the descriptions of grief and marked time, the illogical holding and eventual letting go, that coming to know things only loss can show you. How else can I learn all that others have to share? OWL runs down hills, out of arms reach. The stacks grow and multiply.

An unexpected phone call and miles. Essays and meetings over dinners. A quarrel on the stairs and the sweetness of reunion. I want to write my  words. My heart moves faster than my hands. I am restless, out of breath, walking to work, late, skipping over potholes. My boots scuff brick, concrete, asphalt. The wind lifts a corner of my coat, snakes through my dress, slip, tights. Words I cannot say.

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A book would feel better. Something that requires my eyes and not my hand, these hands that seem incapable of sense or beauty, of holding anything, of completing thoughts.

With a lowered gaze my eyes wouldn’t betray what a stalled hand shows. Lack of movement, of invention. In that stillness the absence of intimacy, of connection. Tip to fiber stains the page in blue with unintelligible marks, poor penmanship, lost life & memories. Only remnants remain.

You are, maybe, a writer I write to myself just before sleep.

The next night, I refine my previous statement. You are, mostly, a writer, because it’s high time I assert some control over the ability to self-define. I walk and ride my bike to get familiar with self-propelling forward motion.

Then I tell myself you are a writer because I’m trying to practice maitri. I am trying to say to myself that I forgive you. I am trying to encourage this one small ounce of faith that has yet to extinguish, even if it’s fake it ’til you make it.

Walking home from the store, stinging behind my eyeballs from a this darkness that has re-enveloped me, born of a terror I’ve yet to name or befriend, your voice. A sweet imprint on an answering machine, across miles. To say hello. Been busy but all is well. Looking forward to some time off next week. A sweetness that will always be. And for a moment it is all so simple. The next moment it is mixed with tears from missing two amazing friends.

You are a writer. This is not decided by the New York Times or The Sun or that anthology you haven’t heard back from. It is not decided by the people who think you should definitely not get an MFA or the people who don’t invite you to interview for a job that you know you would absolutely kick ass at. It isn’t even determined by the one person who loves you most of all, who refuses to let you on the computer without insisting on “watch da whales jumping.”

Another two days pass. Sob wet confessions behind closed doors, absent of logic or rationale. Touch on the old, older, oldest. The lies I believe over and over again without realization. Some of the strings that keep me trapped, tied up in the past-never-to-be-future. My mistrust of all things shines through and illuminates an even still deeper fear that although I’ve come to whisper it time to time out loud (and only to a paid professional) I can only touch for a moment at a time. One breathe at a time then hold the rest.

And suddenly that fire that was consuming me is like smoke. It is long and dark and trailing, its toxins soaked deep within my skin and organs, but smoke nonetheless. Transparent patches. I feel its heat and thickness but walk right through it, still unsure if I’ll ever find the clearing.

In yoga with a new teacher, I find my Warrior after months of it feeling gone. I move consciously from a diagonal lunge, with intention, into Warrior III without using my hand. My foot firmly planted, stable on the earth. My leg shakes like nothing I’ve ever felt – a tremor rising from the inside, up and outward – but I am steady. Prana. I glide into Standing Split, light touch to the floor. We rise, Exhalted. I am still steady. In transition. Prana revealed.

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It seems like forever since I’ve been on here, and I suppose the point of a blog is to actually write often. Well, I have been writing a lot, like all the time, but not posting, which is neglectful of me. But if you lived in my mind, you’d understand the absence.

The new year has already found me giddy with anticipation, distraught over false starts, curled up like a cat for hours reading, lost in my mind for days on end, obsessively checking my email for notifications, and writing page after page of words that will likely never see the light of another day.

I’m in a state of absorption and exploration. A state of getting cozy with my craziness, inviting it to tea and dinner with a tablecloth and 3 courses and dessert and a bubble bath. Observing it as it fans out across the steam. Watch it rise and fall over years in a matter of minutes. I’m learning to be still as the chaos swirls around me. And it is very sad. There are times when I wonder if…. Those are the thoughts I interrupt. Because I have to believe that I can and that I will, even if the time hasn’t come.

Here’s the short of it. I’m finally reading Anne Lamott’s bird by bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and it illuminated quite a few things, connected some dots.

Perfectionism. It stands the way of my everything. Writing. Mothering. Connecting. Now, let’s combine that with Jealousy, the belief that everyone is ultimately better than I am, and that their lives are ultimately better than mine because they are so great and wonderful and their parents loved them right so of course their spouses and children and pets love them too and they engage in meaningful careers or shitty jobs that allow them to live meaningful lives and they have great hair and…. REALLY? Yup. It’s all in there.

So the winter rains illuminate my darkest corners by leaving raindrops on the spider webs that catch the tiny glimpses of light. I see I see I see. But I still don’t know how to change it, how to turn things around, make those connections, find work, get a date that isn’t already dating someone else and eating bagels with her when I show up for lunch with my son, how to be the first in line.

People always ask what I’m writing about, or what I want to write about, and I always come up with some thoughtless rambling answer and they inevitably ask if I blog and I say “yes, but that’s just to get me started and not very serious” (yes you can laugh your ass off at that, please). I leave these conversations feeling even worse than when I started because I should know. I should have some grand answer that is well thought through, has direction and holds the map to my future (remember that future that is right around the corner with so many doors just waiting to open since so many slammed in my face or hit me in the ass as I tried to exit with grace…). But I feel like a child. With questions I don’t know how to ask, hoping that someone will hear the gem in my ramblings, point to it, and I can say “Yes! That’s it! Thank you so much.”

But here’s what occurred to me. I have no idea what I want to write. None. And, that feels good. That’s my insight, that’s what I hear in my ramblings. And that’s the exact answer that was drowned out by my perfectionism and my jealousy. My little Virgo moon is in ecstasy over this, because it can fucking relax for a change. Breath in fresh air. Maybe it can focus on helping me find work now. Here is what I do know. I want to write, and I need to write. Since the 3rd grade this has been of the utmost importance, although along the way I’ve had many occasions to doubt it, to bail on it, to start and stop, to hide it and share it. And the fact that I want to write and need to write is what really matters. And I do it everyday. The subjects, Lamott’s book has assured me, will emerge from the act of writing. The characters and genres and subjects will reveal themselves. All I can do in the meantime is sit down everyday and write and type.

And my meditation practice is a big part of seeing this. Of finding this place. Of listening and observing and exploring. Which brings me to the second reason I’m hibernating with books.

(a day when it was fun work)

On February 6th, I’m taking my refuge vow. I don’t have words for this right now, at least not tonight. Because I decided to apply for grad school with less than 2 weeks until the application is due, and I’ve moved from this cozy one woman party to full on mental illness over this pursuit. So I’m writing shitty first draft after shitty first draft for my statement of interest essay (13 handwritten pages to 2 typed to 4 typed to a restart with 6 handwritten pages to 4 typed), day in and day out.

I am exhausted. And depressed. And a little worried that I may actually be crazy and destined to occupy these empty rooms for lifetimes. Because even though I managed to leave the house for a spell tonight and have a great dinner with a beautiful friend and her sweet son, I came home and went back to work and still feel like there is nothing to show for the 6-1/2 hours of writing I did today.

So it is off to cold sheets and an early alarm so I can begin again bright and early, before the light of the sun.

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It’s been a day.  A good one, mind you.  But short short short naps.  Wailing, screaming, pillow-over-the-rail-of-the-crib tantrums & tears.  At least 47 minutes of it, from when I started tracking the time.  And this surprising rage welling up from somewhere deep inside me.  Mind travels a million miles an hour over that talk that I must have immediately with his father, who, I think, should maybe even come and pick him up for the night.  Because if OWL had a bed over there, if he napped OWL when he was supposed to nap and didn’t feed him to sleep and so on….  Well, my little prince would be sleeping soundly on his own.  All bullshit, I know.  At least 93% of it.  Truth is, I was unable to maintain our boundaries around sleep.  I chose comforting the achey mouth with 4 new teeth and molars pushing the pink gums to white and the runny nose.  In my bed.  Instead of letting him cry it out.  Alone.  In the dark.  In the walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom with no window or heater (not that my heat is on either).

All struggle.  Can’t get a word in edgewise.  No calming.  My requests for him to lay down so I can rub his quivering back unheard.  Rage seeping up from top of my rib cage and the bottom of my lungs.  And I look and see this glow in the dark skeleton, with an enormous head in proportion to its green glowing bones, throwing fits and weaving and stomping.  Laugh and cry, hand over mouth.  Another example of farce disguised as tragedy, although in my laughter I still feel the seething rage.  That forever feeling saying I cannot handle these moments.  The humor and anger holding the space, each looking at the other.  Not competing, but not giving way either.  Each holds its presence.

Meditate my way through the anger.  Put on water to boil and steep the tea.  Light evening blessing incense, thinking that the night could use any sort of offering.  And I sit.  The rage emerges so strong it burns and radiates from my chest.  Like throwing a rock through a window.  But only for a moment, and it quickly dissolves into a sadness.  A deep sobbing sadness that reaches back through the years, the decades even, and finds me as a frightened child.  An unworthy daughter.  An untrustworthy friend.  A never-to-be artist.  An unloveable lover.  An average student.  A failed wife.  A struggling single mama.  This moment so alive and far-reaching.

I desperately need to do my homework, which I’ve been trying to do all weekend.  A last-minute drop opened my wait list space in a UW program – great news.  But I missed the first class, and I have that wrong side of the bed feeling about that.  Quite a task just getting the books that evening, hauling a sleepy OWL out in the cold in the big stroller after dinner.  Next night he won’t sleep until I lay down with him, lights off, my book away.  Mr. Short naps these past 3 days.  No time no time no time.

In sitting, this is what I see.  This program is the first thing I am doing for me, just me, in a very long time.  It’s new.  Going through with it, I am committing to the discipline of learning, to working on my work.  Honing my craft that means so much to me I spent years ignoring it out of fear.  Not just first thought best thought not good enough stop trying.  I’m stepping out of my OWL bubble and in to a world where there are – imagine this – people.  Which means opening myself up to who knows what.  Our world treats the homeless shopping cart radio man the same way we treat our friends and the co-op employees we see everyday.  OWL embraces each leaf and rock and tree stump and utility vault cover as spectacular.  He babbles and I endlessly explain the world.  The difference between trees and bushes.  Why we don’t run in the street.  He makes his own version of signs for meat, butterfly, cracker, cookie, and juice.  I reinforce with praise, and make the sign properly but without correcting him.  It is so sweet, so humbling, so tender a place to inhabit.  But in my recent glimpses of the so-called real world, I experienced such hostility.  Degrading chatter disguised as humor.  Possessive body language slamming the doors of connection.  And now I see my task ahead.  To carry out the simplicity of knocking letter magnets off the refrigerator.  Maintain that openness.  Hold the space for the tantrums and wonder.  Remain awake.

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Cool morning warm day cold night.  Scarf and coat to none to leggings.  Sleep-weary too early, OWL runs through the park across the street under the faded day, steps up and steps down low stairs on his own two feet.  No knees.  No big hands holding his tiny hands lifting & steadying.  His body sways and balances.  About face at the top and down.  Something new.  Just today.  Shriek & go-go-go to the alley.  Big hands call & make freeze.  Learning the boundaries, an edge of predictable safety. Planes as lights in the darkening sky.  Tramping along the garden path, learning boundaries set by twine & enforced by big hands.  Walk benches like a tightrope, small hands holding big index fingers.  Smiles in the dark.  Lap-sitting and snuggles on the cool concrete.  Skips the bath for a bottle.  Stories in mama’s bed.  The Ear Book.  Owl Babies.  Who Hoo Are You? Diaper & PJ’s & Goodnight Moon. Rolling snuggles.  Lullabies.  15 seconds of tears.  Sleep.

Garbanzo beans begin their evening soak on the stove.  Tomatoes red & yellow & purple & green ripen on the windowsill, inching towards the altar.  Tomorrow we bake a chicken and beans with yogurt sauce & smoked paprika.  Need to buy more tomatoes.  Cookies if I pull it all together.  This is the mama I want to be.  Prepared. Cooking & baking.  Fresh food.  Made with love.  With care & mindfulness.  With small hands stirring veggies as they saute, mixing flour & salt, nibbling chocolate chips, cutting shapes from freshly rolled sheets of dough.  Tomorrow, I think I can pull it off.  Even though I sleep to a sink full of dirty dishes and dream about SF’s 50-lb bag of flour & non-existent glass jars full of pasta & cornmeal.

OWL’s appetite graduates to teenager.  He sneaks off with 2 pears, one right after the other, out from the fruit bowl & into the living room.  Eats them both entirely. Including most of the seeds from the 2nd one since it was hidden from my view longer than the 1st.  Dinner plate full of turkey sausages & chard & yogurt.  2 cups of water.  Slice of almond butter toast before bed, eaten like a cat.  Face & mouth & tongue & no hands.   The bulk of yesterday spent scrambling eggs, slicing up cheese & plums, toasting crumpets, sauteing squash (from SF’s garden), cutting tofu into squares, dishing up 3 servings of pasta….  16 months today, but I cannot imagine him any other way.  “Old” videos prove me wrong.  Learning to crawl, inching & grunting forward off a blanket.  Fingers clumsily find a chunk of avocado and rub it across his once-chubby face.  Fingers and fruit finally find mouth.  One tooth vs the now 6.  Crawling now a novelty, an act undertaken with great laughs.  Forks & spoons & open cups.  The banana-lock on the back right side of his head made by many meals & a dislike of wet soapy hair.

Another day.  Beans cooked before 9:30 am, scents the apartment with an earthy sweetness.  Talk on the phone with a good friend that I miss even though we are less than 10 miles apart, prepare and bake the chicken.  Drop the raw breast halves (yes, plural), on the floor.  Forget to reserve some of the spice mixture for the chicken.  Forget to add the salt.  So much for made with mindfulness. But the baking is at least completed.  And she was the only one who called about the latest articles in the papers, and it felt good to talk, even when I was spinning backwards in time.  Sometimes reopening things brings compassion and dissolution.  Funny word. Tomorrow the house forecloses.  Working to finish the divorce before a January trial date.  Ugh.  Ready for closed chapters already.  Ready to untether.

What are you afraid of? I am afraid of what I cannot provide my son.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? I am afraid of being a single parent.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? I am afraid of never working again.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? Decisions that I need to make.  Decisions that impact my son, my future, my ex.  Grad school.  Moving.  Moving him away.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? That things will never change.
Thank you.  What are you afraid of? Bell rings.  Exchange stops.  Silent.

Contemplate.  Bring the fear closer.  Gentle.  Explore.  Accept.  Open.  My fear diminishes, although it doesn’t disappear, as I feel myself say the words out loud. Air passes through my throat.  Sound emerges.  Audible breath.  I hear my voice. Eyes and eyelids and cheeks feel the tears.  The heat.  The clenching lungs.  The taste of salt.  But in the silence that follows my confessions, I cannot recall my fears, their feel & presence & my experience.  I sit in silence and think of kissing.  Not anyone in particular, just the peculiar nature of two pairs of lips meeting, tasting, playing, exploring.  Teeth and tongues.  Softness and sweetness and dry skin. Placement of hands.  What the leafy shadows outside on the rail would look like cast across two necks leaning towards each other.

Walk downstairs.  OWL toddles among the legs, clad in airplane PJ’s, tote bag full with his shirt & pants.  His cheeks rosy red from the cool outside and sleepiness.  I catch his eye & he smiles, teeters forward, shows me his bag.  I slide the straps over his shoulder and he prances forth, back the way he came.  He eats cookies and sips my cooled tea.  Follows SF into the bathroom, TA chases him from the kitchen with smiles & giggles, and he climbs the couch to visit RR & D.  He runs circles.  I stand in place, roar as he passes.  He laughs that OWL laugh.  He is home here.  Comfortable eating & playing & hanging out while mama sits upstairs confessing her fears and practicing the presence of mind he masters without a thought, without a second guess.  Roar again as he passes and know.  This is all worth while.

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