Severing

axSevering. Cutting the cord. Boundaries. Mother’s milk. Hand on my back. Opening my mouth. Cord snaking out, sticky and thick and unending, an infinite belly coil I keep pulling on, years and years and a recurring dream of not being able to cut it — the more I try, the more it becomes something like glue, impossible and uncooperative, stretching from and gumming up the sharp blade. I am trying too hard, I am waking up sweating and tired of being sorry, I am scrambling on eroding ground, watching it crumble. And then, later, walking — I am walking down and then up a hill, feet on earth, voice out loud, begin here, and here, and this is enough for today I tell myself, until later, so much later in the car the throat constricts and chest crushes and suddenly I’m sobbing and remembering this dream after so long a reprieve, and it smells like the teen spirit I swallowed and spit out, it sounds like all the horses running towards me at once, it feels like crowded, hands in front of me, palms facing out in a gesture of give me space, please I need space. And I am aware in this moment of the impulse to rush through the feelings, the way sometimes you want to rush to climax and the rushing runs interference with the desired outcome which is to say what it is about, when really this experience, these feelings in the body are not about — they are not linear or narrative or logical or cognitive, no, they are storms, they are electricity and power surges and powerlessness and where where is the ground, where is the voice, what do I want, who am I, where was I, what am I afraid of losing, what was lost already so many times over and can’t be retrieved? There will be no words until I can give this its full expression, give over to it, give into the walls closing in knowing that when they fall I will be standing here solid under sky without explanation or proof of purchase. All of this is to say the severing dream came back to me, floated into my mind casually, like, no big deal, just coming to say hello, it’s been so long how are you? Why are you here, I asked, and the dream — though I was awake now, and driving — said, to tell you what I was about all those years. And now I am a baby and the cord is cut and I am on my own but held and loved and now I am an adult and I am on my own holding my own and loved in new ways, chosen ways, ways that remind me to be a big girl now, a grown woman, strong enough to know that I don’t have to put myself through the same thing over and over that is so long ago now done and gone.

Use your voice, love your way, and don’t be afraid, love. Don’t be afraid.

The Art of Detachment

This morning, my old friend and I went for our weekly run. We were both tired, but she came over anyway, and I rallied and laced up my sneakers, and out we went for our just-shy-of-25-minute jaunt north to UMass and then up through town, back to my driveway, where we stretched and kept talking for a while longer, then up to my kitchen, where I poured us both some water and we talked yet some more.

Our weekly run reminds me of when, years ago in Burlington, my friend Nan and I used to meet Friday mornings at my house, ostensibly for sitting practice. We did sit, mind you — usually for 10 or 15, sometimes as long as 20 minutes. And then we picked a card from the Carolyn Myss archetypes deck and talked. And talked and talked and talked. I’d joke that our sitting practice was really just cover for getting together, and it was.

When my life imploded, it was Nan I called, and the friendship that grew up inside of all that sitting and talking was a kind of bedrock. The same is true these days with Susa. The running is our presenting reason for a regular visit, and these visits are the stuff that makes a friendship become bedrock, even one that goes back 30+ years.
We were talking about how you really never know what’s going on in someone else’s world, not unless he or she tells you.

What if we moved through life seeing each other this way? She told me about a video that always makes her partner, a dharma teacher, well up with tears. In it, some guy is having One of Those Days. The kind where everything is hard, the world seems to be against him, conspiring to perpetuate his suffering. He gets cut off in traffic, someone at the coffee shop is rude to him — we’ve all been this person.

Then there’s the second version, with little bubbles above the other people’s heads. The driver of the car that cut off our disgruntled protagonist? Recently lost his wife to cancer. The jerk in the coffee shop ? Going through a brutal divorce.

You’ve probably seen this quote, even likelier in some pretty meme on Pinterest: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” There’s debate about its origin, which attests if anything to its universality and truth.

Where things can sticky, for me, is when I forget this. Because then it becomes easy for my own ego to take center stage (isn’t that where ego loves to hang out?). Historically, it has been really hard for me to have someone be unhappy. As a kid, I hated it when my mom was upset, even if I hadn’t been the one to upset her. Because life is kind in this way, I’ve had lots of practice with this trigger.

To this day, I still have to work on walking away when Aviva is upset or angry, be it with me or for any other reason. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. “I’m getting better,” I want to say, and even there, I hear the plea, the not-so-subtle wish for approval: Look, world, I’m working on it! Look, Ma, no hands!

The good girl in me — I don’t trust her much anymore. She sees through distorted lenses. She might have 99 people who respect her, appreciate her, and enjoy her gifts and foibles alike. But guess what? It’s that 1% that catches her, hooks her, sinks her. Left to her own voices and devices, she’d be a cloying partner, a needy friend, and a helicopter mom. Oy.

The art of detachment. Other people’s opinions of me are none of my business. Complete sentences, like “No.” And, “I don’t want to.” And, “This doesn’t feel good to me.” And, “Best wishes.

Sometimes not everything goes your way, or mine. Maybe even a lot of time. Where did we — where did I — get this idea, that it should?

I think about raising resilient, well-prepared-for-real-life kids, and realize the best and perhaps only way I can do this is to live a real life. Hang the rejection letter on the fridge. Tell them I had an unhappy customer and didn’t understand why and couldn’t fix it because it wasn’t mine to fix. Keep doing my work with as much joy, integrity, and heart as I can. Focus on the 99% not as sugar-coating but because it feels good and fuels me.

I’m not polished. I’m not perfect. I’m not for everyone. You’re not for everyone. Some days are rough, but the truth is, as many beautiful moments happen as sucky ones. It’s just that the latter can eclipse everything if I let them.

What if we all saw those little bubbles over each other’s heads? What if we have one person, just one, who meets us exactly where we are, week after week after week, to sit, to run, or even just to drink coffee and laugh or cry or talk about all the broken and beautiful things until a day comes when oh, do we ever need that friend and there she is, waiting for you with a latte and a hug? What if we wished each other well and walked away when it didn’t feel good, and it was nobody’s fault? What if we were kinder to each other and ourselves, and didn’t take everything so personally?

I’m practicing the art of detachment. And something interesting is happening. It is getting easier to arrive at this freedom: I am here, you are there. This is mine, that is yours. My shadow is a dance partner who’s always pushing me to learn new steps.

It’s almost like she believes in me.

Fighting Something Off

xoxoxo

I am fighting something off.

It sounds like I’m being attacked. It’s strange when the “attack” is invisible to the naked eye. The only proof of it is in the lethargy of my muscles, the subtle ache in my bones, the hint of a scratch against the back of my throat. And the sleep. Good lord, the sleep.

Yesterday, after a very full week, I took a three-hour “nap” in the late-afternoon. I ate a bowl of homemade oatmeal with brown sugar and a banana for dinner while we watched the Bulls game and cheered them on through what’s proving to be a difficult season. Then I spent a few hours working in bed. We turned out the light around 12:30am and I slept for eleven hours. ELEVEN.

coffeeToday, Mani emptied out the entire contents of our shared closet and dresser drawers– all of which were overflowing — and while I made and drank my first cup of coffee and washed the dishes I was too tired to confront last night, she heaved a small mountain of clothes onto our bed. We then spent two hours sorting every single article of clothing we own, filled two large garbage bags with giveaways, and pared our wardrobe down to one that is both cute, functional, and manageable.

Our room felt much lighter afterwards.

Since then, I’ve done about five loads of laundry, and we have delicates drying flat and hanging  over the backs of chairs in both the bedroom and kitchen. We’re so thankful our landlord bought that new washer and dryer.

I left the house briefly around 4:00pm to deliver our donations to the Hospice Shop and stop at the post office with some mail to deliver, and an hour later, was already ready for a nap. I slept for 90 minutes or so.

Now, we’ve both eaten dinner. My thighs feel as if I spent hours running, which could not be further from reality. It can only mean one thing.

I’m fighting something off.

We didn’t get a speck of snow here. It’s bizarre, to see photos of a blizzard that didn’t make it this far north, and I’m finding myself remembering blizzards in years past, like the one in 2011 when my kids and soon-to-be-ex-husband were on vacation somewhere tropical and I was home–housesitting actually–and shoveling my way out of a dead-end street that was closed to the main road for two full days after the snow stopped falling. Or the ones in years prior to that, when we lived on a different little dead-end street and the kids went rolling out in their poofy snowsuits, veritably disappearing in the drifts. I remember the workout of getting those things on and off of them.

Now it’s just January. My kids can put on their own snowgear, there’s no snow here, and they’re at their dad’s this weekend besides. I’ve come down from the natural high of my birthday and am looking at the landscape that may not appear to change all that much for the next couple of months, reminding myself that it’s always like this, some variation on a theme of pale, dry, tired, dull, and hungry for color, heat, and warmth.

The main difference? The ease I’ve prayed for has begun to settle over our lives in some ways that feel new. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s something like the brick building I walked by the other day in town, with a wall of windows reflecting another wall of windows, so that I could play with my eyes with what was a window and what was a reflection.

And I dream during these long, deep sleeps 1,000 leagues under the sea, of places I used to live and people I used to know and climbing steep, nearly vertical, hills alone to the most beautiful views — crisp, like a living painting: A group of runners crossing a bridge, snow-capped mountains, hills and valleys. It was really special, a vision.

My desk is strewn with things I’ve printed out to read, in addition to the books on my nightstand waiting for my time and attention: An interview with Vivian Gornick in The Paris Review,  a long and important essay by Patti Digh about creating boundaries, and pages by women who’ve entrusted me with manuscripts and works-in-progress that need me to read not only with my eyes and brain but with my heart.

Is there another way?

I need more days, more time. Time is so very fast. I see it in my face and hair these days, feel it in my lower back, and taste it like the elderberry syrup I’m taking every two hours by the spoonful.

I’m fighting something off.

mugI’m tossing the mug that chipped this morning and the shirt that’s stained, both of which carry memories of 20+ years. I’m shelving the unread books and the draining compulsion to try to please everyone. I’m not fighting off age, but I am looking at my kids’ faces and bodies and listening to their stories and voices changing and watching this thing happening called time passing. I’m thinking it’s true, that it speeds up the older we get.

I’m dreaming about babies and beaches and I’m walking past windows within windows. I’m fighting off the urge to wait to write until I have something worth sharing. I’m circling back to where I began, coming here as a place to practice. There is something deep down, and it’s enough, because it’s January, to let it stay curled up like the fox my friends saw when they left my house last Tuesday night after we wrote together.

I hung pink Xs and Os today at the top of our stairs, a cute banner from the Target Dollar Spot and a seasonal demarcation line between the somewhat ratty entryway and our lovely, cozy space. I climbed on a chair and then had one foot on the sill and hoped I wouldn’t slip down the stairs behind me. Then I heated up the defrosted chili and plugged in the twinkle lights and watched a video by Glennon Doyle Melton about “Sistering” in silence because Mani was resting.

You know what? It was beautiful to watch without sound, so much color and love and I wished life always felt like those gorgeous faces and then realized: It kind of does. Sometimes. Except when it really doesn’t. And how both are always true.

It helps to know what’s important to fight off versus what gets admission into your space, your heart, your drawers, your closet, your desk, your days. Yes, Rumi, this being human is a guest house. / Every morning a new arrival.

But frankly, there’s so much we don’t get a say in that I’d argue for some agency, when there is a choice involved, as to who and what get to come inside.

I am fighting some things off. I am letting some things in. 

Might as well make the best of it. Might as well choose carefully and well, when and where we can.

The Best Part of Life by Glennon Doyle Melton from SALT Project on Vimeo. With thanks to Daniel Boylan for sending this my way.