While Listening to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour

I’m listening to a crushingly beautiful piece of music.* I have two tamales in the oven and that’s not a euphemism. I misspelled euphemism (with an “a”) and used autocorrect to fix it. Chalupa, having just scarfed down lunch, is quietly gnawing on some chew toys in her bed. Mani’s at the dentist. The windows are open and it’s a cool, comfortable temperature. Earlier, I also had my teeth cleaned. I rode my bike a little under 10 miles.

I’m enjoying the bike riding; there’s something so spacious about it, especially the longer flat stretches of farmland where I find my thoughts can lengthen.

In many ways, I’m feeling quiet lately. I’m learning that quieter doesn’t mean less fired up, less devoted, less effective, less of service. It’s interesting to note that that’s even an assumption I’d make, but not surprising, I suppose. After all, we’re told to make noise, to speak up, to stand up, to rise up. But how? We all meet life in such unique ways.

I just got up to check my tamales. They’re not ready. Now I’m listening to Eric Satie. I loved playing these pieces so long ago — the gymnopedies and gnossiennes. (Spellcheck can’t save me now, but I’m not going to bother looking these up.)

Playing piano was, in the past, one of the ways I spent time with myself. Alone time, connected time, slow time, introspective time, quiet time, meditative time, feeling time. Now that my piano lives over at my parents’ house and we have an electronic keyboard, I rarely sit down to play. I say it’s “just not the same,” but wonder if perhaps I should try again.

This is very similar to what I’m finding on these bike rides: Solace, space, quiet, a kind of freedom and also a sense of relief. Oh, there you are. 

Last I did a Meyer’s Briggs assessment, my I (introvert) and E (extrovert) were exactly 50/50, so it’s not surprising that both qualities are strong in me. Lately, I’ve been craving connection AND solitude in equal measure. It seems contradictory and maybe even confusing, but I’m not trying to figure it out. Instead, I’m interested in listening, noticing where there’s fear (what if I’m feeling more social than my spouse?), and keeping lines of communication open both internally and with the people in my life.

I do find, again and again, that the latter leads to conversations that deepen relationships. The only truly detrimental thing is shutting down, though i recognize that sometimes, a person needs to give themselves room for that, too. We’re so damn quick to judge ourselves and each other. More than anything, I want to create space between myself and the judgment.

* * *

Many hours have passed since I started writing this. It’s a little before 6:00pm now, and I just finished eating an early dinner. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if I was pregnant what with the tired and the hungry lately. I scroll through Facebook and see lots of people’s kids graduating — from preschool, from middle school, from high school, from college. My own son will graduate from sixth grade next week. It’s definitely one of those leaving-the-nest moments.

I’m also seeing babies being literally taken from their parents’ arms.

It’s easy to think: Who am I to be quiet when we’re witnessing human rights atrocities on a daily basis in our own country?

Again, quiet and caring, quiet and enraged, self-care and resistance — these are not mutually exclusive. And it’s that exact kind of binary, either/or, all or nothing thinking that keeps us paralyzed, focused more on self-judgment or self-righteousness than on actual care, for ourselves or anyone else, close or distant.

How do we keep each other?

Today, I had a throw-in-the-towel moment. I heard that Trump has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. We were so flabbergasted that we checked to see if it was real news, and it was. I said to Mani, “I’m at a point where I’m thinking we need to protect the most vulnerable, focus on community building and calling things by their true names, and giving up any last shreds of hope that the two-party system can save us.”

I do believe in voting. I want to believe in the democratic process. And I also know that the democratic process has kicked a lot of people to the curb for centuries — hardly democratic when you look right at it.

This doesn’t feel quiet; I feel myself getting worked up and my soapbox is not what the world needs from me.

So what does the world need from me? What does the world need from you?

Courage. Humility. Intense reckoning with the ways we’ve internalized oppression and where we’ve been the oppressor. Fierce love and ever fiercer awareness that not everyone has the same cushions, or any cushions for that matter — from literally soft places to land at the end of the day to the emotional, mental, and material support required to live in a world that makes you fight to prove your humanity.

Ranty.

From quiet to ranty in a few hundred words.

And so I come back to the boring parts. Everyday life is always happening. I know how hard it is to stay alert — and trying to stay alert 24/7 will fry your nervous system and make you sick. I’m rarely this blunt, but I will say this: Don’t do it. We need you well. We need you here. I need you.

And I need myself intact, too. I cannot be of any use if I’m always “on,” nor can I check out and go live in a cave. I’m not sure I believe in balance, but I do believe in dichotomies and that we — we quirky, needy, messy, loving, scared, angry, sad, funny, ordinary humans — embody many things at once.

I’m not sure if that’s a logical place to wrap up this ramble, but it will have to do.

* Gratitude to Jennifer Sekella, a member of my Get Your Muse On group. Today, instead of offering a prompt as I usually do on Wednesdays, I asked folks to share one of their own — a kind of “leave a prompt, take a prompt” exercise. Jen wrote: “I used to always have my students listen to Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barbour. They’d write the images, thoughts, feelings that arose and then write a story, poem, or the like from their reactions.”

Inner + Outer Landspace

magnoliaI woke up today with a stabbing sore throat. Then I looked out the window and saw that it was snowing. Hard. I worked in bed for a few hours before attempting to rest a bit, then trudged into town to pick up a few things we needed from CVS pharmacy.

I stopped to look at the forsythia, the barely blooming magnolias, and the bowed heads of the daffodils. I felt sad. The roads looked a mess and the sidewalks weren’t cleared.

To say this past winter was mild would be an understatement. To think a few days ago, I had no sign of coming down with something and was running outside in a t-shirt is just jarring.

If I feel disoriented, I can only imagine how the birds must feel; they were having a party at the feeder on the side porch when I got home about an hour later, not even budging as I snapped their picture like the paparazzi.

My throat is still raw, but it has already broken into what feels like a bad head cold. I ate two huge cloves of raw garlic earlier, chopped up with honey. I tried resting a bit more and when I got up, Mani said I looked like a Nyquil commercial — and smelled like a vampire movie. The kids will be home soon; their dad’s going out of town and they’ll be here for the next two weeks. During that time, Pearlie will turn 10, and hopefully spring will return so she can ride the new bike to school — a birthday present from her three grandparents.

I have head fog. It’s arguably not the best time to write anything. And this isn’t the first thing I’ve written today. It is, however, the first time all day I’ve put words down that had no purpose, no prompt. They may not be very interesting to read, but meeting myself here is one of the things that keeps me here. Or maybe I should say, Here. In the existential sense. With a capital H.

Today, I had a thought. We roughly assume the seasons will go round and round. Yes, we are experiencing climate change on local levels in undeniable ways, but I don’t think on a really visceral level we necessarily believe it — the weather, the seasons, the climate — could really get to where we don’t even recognize it. Sure, climate change is terrifying but we still think in terms of summer, fall, winter, and spring — at least I do, the rhythm of New England seeped into me over the years despite how much I love other landscapes and places.

But what if it isn’t so? What if this winter-in-April was the new “normal” and stayed for months, followed by a few sultry days and some violent thunderstorms and who-knows-what-else? I’m talking haywire, people. But the “what if” doesn’t really matter. I don’t mean that in a cynical or fatalistic way; more in a que sera, sera kind of way.

It’s weird how a cold can rip through you like weather, changing the inner landspace, turning words like “landscape” into “landspace” because you’re too out of it to really notice till after the fact. And meanwhile, the outer landspace/landscape is transformed after a day of snowfall from the glories of early spring to full-blown winter.

In moments like these, I remind myself that I will be well again, and spring will come again, and nothing lasts forever. Not a cold, not the weather. Except love, maybe, and that’s too trippy for me to get my Nyquil-garlic head around tonight.

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.