A Moment

tired-dogI’m working too much. I don’t stop because I love what I’m doing. I love being flooded with ideas, words and images. I love fashioning them like a seamstress to fit the page. I finish a piece of writing but there is no rest, my mind goes to the next and the next with excitement and wonder. I am a slave to the muse. I have kissed her face and eaten her ambrosia. I would follow her anywhere.

I stopped sleeping months ago. Midnight to three is typical, midnight to five is better. Today I slept from midnight to seven, which rarely happens. I envy the young who sleep for hours, needing to be called into the day. If I stay up past midnight my body decides it’s a new day and gives me a fresh burst of energy, then I’m really in trouble. 

Gib is working long hours as well. He plays tennis at eight, runs the pallet company until three, then leaves to coach at the high school. He comes home after dark with more work to do and too much on his mind. 

We live like spinning tops swirling in and out of the same circle, but sometimes as he lies on the couch looking into his laptop, and I make my way toward my own pile of work, I’ll pause near the edge of the sofa. His silver hair spreads out just enough to grab my attention; I remember, stop and touch.

I’ll run my fingers against his scalp, gently pull on his long hair and move my hands along his brow. That’s all it takes. His body moves to meet me, his eyes close and his expression changes from one of worry to a deep and welcome letting go. It’s only a moment, but it saves us. We remember and rekindle who we are together.

The moment is broken when I ask his advice, or shake my head in wonder as I glance into the kitchen.

You’re constitutionally incapable of closing a cupboard door, aren’t you?

He smiles, looking at the evidence of his absent-minded path. I never seem to learn, do I? 

My oldest sister, Mary Ann, once told me that men are like loyal dogs. I thought that was demeaning and offensive at the time, but the longer Gib and I are together, the more I take her point. A good scratch behind the ears and all is back on track.

Writing Memoir

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

writingThis is what happens each time I sit to write. I ask myself to look at life straight, without skipping over the shadow places, or pretending I don’t hear what I hear, or see what I see.

I ask my courage to dive deep into dark waters with eyes wide open when my tendency is to turn away, protect or avoid. Warning lights flash in my belly. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe. I tell myself it’s not too late to turn back. But I go there, because if I am successful, I won’t have to live above the swamp. I can drain it, release the power of the underworld and add sunshine.

To look again at what was, is to open my memory to sights and sounds and smells I have masterfully put aside. My mind tells me to cut off the past like a dead limb, because there is simply no point, no useful purpose. Look ahead, it tells me. Plan the future. My mind tries to be nice to me, to do me a favor and keep me out of trouble. I appreciate it, but I can’t move forward as long as there is unfinished business.

I pride myself on having created, against all odds, a body of water that is clear and calm. Why would I stir it up with memories of the past? Not just stir it up, but keep my eyes wide open. My mind directs me to sunny beaches in Mexico, while my emotions direct me to the business of truth telling.

I reach for Hershey’s kisses. Little pieces of chocolate wrapped in shiny golden paper with an almond hidden within. I’m allergic to chocolate, but the almond eases the guilt. If I listen to the language of the heart, it’s telling me that I need some kisses, whether or not I can digest them, and not only do I need them, I need them now. Not after the next paragraph. Kisses can’t wait.

Writing memoir brings up issues of privacy and loyalty. Do I want others to know my history? Will I lose power or gain it by revealing myself?  The past is not the present. Is it fair to portray what was frozen in my personal archives? Surely, everyone experienced our time together differently. Each person is a country in and of themselves. Is it fair in revealing my memories to expose, accurately or inaccurately, the personal landscape of others? Will I be seen as an alien invader? Most certainly, I will. I intend to see with honest eyes, but whose version of the truth is revealed? I commit to write, and ask for forgiveness if my version of the truth offends those living or those already in the spirit world.  Sometimes I hesitate to recall memories for fear it would pull on the spirit of another in a negative way, when what is called for is forgiveness. All these things are considered and felt when we open the door to deep diving.

Stagnant

dog-with-bearI got up early yesterday. My husband was still sleeping, so I sat in morning light near my altar and lit a candle. The space felt nested and cozy, the perfect time to write. I sank into silence and let my pen run across the blue lines of my notebook for nearly two hours, completely engaged and happy. When I finished and read over the work, I found it scattered and lacking focus. My mind had jumped from one idea to the next, as I happily downloaded word after useless word without notice. I pondered my dilemma, deciding to keep it anyway, thinking perhaps there was something I could salvage and use another day.

I was a dead person yesterday. Instead of fixing my husband breakfast, which I love to do, I went back to bed. Everything you need is in the frig dear; let me know if you have trouble finding it, like he doesn’t live here too. I left him to it while I lay in bed and napped. I thought about things I wanted to do, even visualized myself doing them. Not big things, just ordinary things like taking a shower or going into the office to answer emails, but I couldn’t move.

Finally, I pushed the television from the closet to the foot of the bed and put in a movie, but the film was horrible, young women being murdered in brutal detail. Who needs that? I’d been misled by the title. Well, not really, since the title said, I KNOW WHO KILLED ME, in bold letters. In my defense, the previews looked metaphysical. Usually I stick to the BBC because they murder people politely, in stately mansions, with large sweeping lawns and Austin Healey’s parked in circular driveways.

Hunger finally got the best of me, so I made tuna over salad greens, another major effort. My energy set the tone for the house. Even my energizer husband was napping on the couch.

After lunch I went to bed, once again, like a dead person.

I tried to read a book a friend gave me for Christmas, but hated it. The cover proudly stated that Stephen King loved it. Stephen King is not a good match for a BBC girl either. He kills people too, only he’ll scare you to death before you ever get to that part.

Dark now. Evening and I’m still useless, so I grab my writing one last time and think of a story. I work on it for hours while my husband researches an anti-virus product. (Exciting life around here.) When I finish, it’s eleven at night. I have a moment of thinking perhaps I’ve saved the day, perhaps it has not been a complete waste.  Satisfied, I type my piece into the computer, add a graphic and ask my husband for his opinion. This man who is always generous and supportive beyond reason said, that is by far the worst thing you’ve ever done, Karen. I wouldn’t put that out if I were you.

I looked at the piece and knew he was completely utterly correct, so I pushed the delete button and watched it disappear into an unseen graveyard.

Some days are like that. Astrology calls it a void-of-course-moon, but I call it a big waste of time and energy.

An Introvert’s Christmas

 

Snow is falling quietly and softly outside my window. It is light and undecided, on the border between snow and rain. My husband rose early, eager to make the long drive to his daughter’s house, where his children and their children will gather to celebrate. The house will be full of loud people with big voices, competing with an immense television blaring football and commercials. Children will scream for attention, squeal with delight, and play with noise-driven toys.

I have baked sugar cookies, cardamon-orange sweet rolls, and sent raspberry jam from last summer’s crop. I placed a hat on my husband’s head, stuffed gloves in his pocket, and watched him pull from the driveway, his tires chained and crunching ice.

Now it is my time. I go immediately to the stereo and put on Louie Armstrong. His voice fills the space, like a kiss from the past:

I see trees of green,

 red roses too.

 I see them bloom, for me and you,

and I think to myself,

what a wonderful world .

I see skies of blue,

And clouds of white,

 the bright blessed day,

 dark sacred night,

and I think to myself,

 what a wonderful world.

 As I listen, I sponge the coffee table clean, open windows for a blast of fresh air, clang a Tibetan bell to clear the space, and place a match against the wick of a candle, watching its light move into a tall steady flame. Finally, I fold a warm brown shawl across my shoulders, sit on the couch and silence the stereo. I breathe in the quiet, wrapping it around me like a welcome friend. I am old enough now not to feel guilty about who I am and what I need, or to put myself in situations that feel wrong or abrasive.

It is a great pressure being different in a society that has traditions and rules about what holidays mean, and how they are to be celebrated. Thanksgiving makes sense to me, because it’s a time to be thankful. But Christmas follows too close on its heels, and escalates into a kind of material carnage and shopping frenzy full of pressure and disappointments. It seems a day set aside to magnify family issues, and the difference between how our lives are, and the ideals we hold. Add to that my sincere dislike for material accumulation and the incompatibility grows.

I did have a moment yesterday, when I slipped into parental guilt, knowing how much my daughter, Kristen, has always loved holidays.

I’m sorry I live so far in the country, I told her. I should have a big house in town, where we can more easily gather as a family, and do a traditional Christmas.

Her answer was kind and real. Mom, don’t do that to yourself. That is not who you are, or what you really need or want. Just be you on Christmas day and enjoy it.

Kristen is busy cooking for the nearly one hundred residents who live at the ashram, fulfilling her dream of living with a large spiritual family.

And so, I sit in this peace-filled room, alone, watching snow and birds, and allowing my writing to surface with abundant time and space.

I’m sure many would judge my holiday sad and deprived of humanity, but I have a deep calm and a welcome communion with myself in not wishing to be any where else, or doing any thing else. Perhaps next year, I will be surrounded by quiet loving friends, but this year I am content, and delighted beyond measure to find that I can allow the richness of what I need, without pretending to be other than I am.

Opening act

 

lavenderI have time and space to write today, but nothing bubbles to the surface. I want to write. I close my eyes and search the calm inner space of my mind for a glimmer of an idea, an image or focus that will catch my attention and excite me, much like watching a trout rise from the water. I want the literary sound of the reel, the sudden release of line, and the contest that ensues. I wait for the part where I hold my breath in anticipation, wondering what lurks around the corner. I want to step out of time, because I am so entranced by the tale unfolding that I forget to eat, don’t notice the ache in my fingers, and resent sleep for taking me away from the excitement of creation.

That is what I wait for, but that is not what comes. After years of struggle I have finally accepted that all things have a season, and that pushing my will against the flow of life does no good. Fall is my season for writing. Cozy fires, pies baking in the oven and gentle consistent rains create a yearning to reach inside, to journey into unknown realms, to define my intention, and get blissfully lost in the process of discovery. Words and ideas tumble freely from other realms as I nest in my house. I become a willing scribe and witness.

But today it is not fall or even winter. It is spring in all its radiant glory. Large Japanese peonies reach eagerly for the sun, thread-like green tentacles wrap around bamboo as snow-peas burst into life, and spinach leaves dance large and open against black soil. Spikes of swiss chard reach skyward in shades of red, joined by corn stalks, sweet peas and cucumbers. It is nature’s opening act. The dark curtains of winter have dramatically drawn back. I stand awe-struck and humbled as I watch life reach into the light and become whole. It is a miraculous birthing that commands complete attention.

In honor of this change of season, morning meditations have moved from our candle lit parlor to a blanketed lawn chair in the garden. The birdbath lays quiet, fresh and wet near my elbow, as I breathe the scent of cedar trees. I dutifully close my eyes and fall into my breath as it enters and leaves my body, allowing moments without boundaries. The wind in the trees, high-pitched birdcalls, and the splashing of wild ducks in the pond become part of my hearing and part of each breath. They become part of me. The touch of sun on my face, part of my skin.

There is no pushing or pulling in this place. There is no striving. This is a place of allowing and being. It is a place of peace and rest. It teaches me about who I am and who I am not.

There is a black cat, I have befriended; a feral cat that did not allow touch and could not trust. I have named her Depa. She watched me for a month of mornings, then leapt into my lap, circled, clawed and rubbed her wet nose against my hand. She too has found a home in this quiet space. She joins me daily now, welcome and expected.

When this ritual is complete, I open my eyes and stare into the gathering of trees that hold my garden terrace like a strong loving hand. They are ancient and varied, a community of elders. I look forward to spending time in their company, and imagine their gaze on me as I arrange borders of blue-grey river rocks, inspect new sprouts of lettuce, tuck compost around roses, and pour white vinegar on encroaching Morning Glories. I shovel paths that lead to quiet nooks of solitude, rest on transported tree stumps, and fasten chicken wire over fresh soil to discourage Depa from using our garden as her litter box.

No, this is not a time to hide away in the house fumbling with the keys and frustration of a computer. I am midwife and steward to the garden. It is time to celebrate and tend the journey each seed will make as it reaches, stretches and unfolds into an abundant harvest. I would not miss it for the world.

written 5-5-06