e6692290a81346434d546efb7c83a6f1-1It’s foggy here this morning. “Jack the Ripper” weather, I always think of it, in part because there’s that sense that anything could be around the corner. I dropped my daughter off at school, the yellow of the school buses and the solid blues and neon oranges of kids’ hoodies seeming to glow a little in the thick, wet air. She was off to her final day of standardized testing – in other words, walking around a corner where she knows just what’s on the other side. Bubble forms and number twos.

She’s a good student, but she doesn’t test well and taking them makes her a bit sick – sick to her stomach, sick with anger, sick with self-doubt. I’ve thought of pulling her from the tests altogether, as right now they only seem to be shooting her in the foot – the scores keeping her out of higher level classes that her grades suggest she can take. I’m not sure if it’s herd mentality or a calculated decision to become comfortable with discomfort, but we’ve decided that she should keep taking them for now.

So she goes and chews spearmint gum, per the guidance counselor’s advice. She tells herself to be curious instead of terrified – even if she’s more the latter. And every day I marvel just a little that the bogey man did not get her – she’s here carving pumpkins and laughing, manhandling her little brother, ordering double chocolate muffins. She’s walked into the fog and though some of it may cling to her, she’s walked through it.

Which is exactly what I hope will happen to my husband who boarded a plane for New York City yesterday afternoon, only to get halfway way there when the news of an Ebola case came blaring through airport televisions, online devices, and word of regular old mouths. He is taking his daughter to the city – the first time she’s been there and only his second. We’ve been excited, making arrangements and finding quirky things for them to do – like a dog Halloween party in Tompkins Square. But now it feels a bit like entering the fog. What is around that subway turnstile? that street in Brooklyn with the bowling alley?

Rationally, I know we are all brushing against unforeseen dangers on a daily basis and this one possesses a tiny iota of risk to two weekend tourists. I’m amazed by how many bikers wearing headphones and simultaneously texting I’ve come close to hitting with my car, only to have them be absolutely clueless that they were even in harm’s way. And as with Bella and the standardized tests, we willingly do things all of the time that we know may not be the best for our higher Self; I am still feeling the effects of the sugar from the ill-chosen oatmeal with maple syrup/orange juice combo I put in my body this morning, for instance.

A needle in a haystack is how the Ebola virus in the US currently feels. The scary part is that we all know there will be more needles and more precautions to safeguard against them. In the meantime, we walk into the fog – board the plane, take the subway, kiss our loved ones goodbye with the absolute intention that they’ll reappear at the end of the day or return after the trip. We maintain faith that while the fog might cling a bit and even dampen us, it won’t kill us.

A bag of a hundred tulip bulbs awaiting freshly dug holes.

Five comforters in need of hand sewing.

Two pie shells plus a bag of half a dozen apples ripe with possibility.

Four parsnips questioning the next step.

One dog to walk.

One performance to attend.

Two shin guards found.

Three window air conditioners to remove and put to rest for the season.

One napping husband.

Three boxes of winter clothes to unfurl, clean, and reconsider.

The weekend unfolds in numbers. Expectations are low.

The tree outside my window holds hundreds of leaves.

Yellowing and falling, they will disappear without anyone counting them,

Without anyone asking: “What’s next?”

I have been trying for a very long time now. It has been out there. Just around the corner. A bit of out of reach. No time. No energy. What was the point again? Who will read it? Publishing is dying. Books are dead. I have to make dinner, go to work, exercise, walk the dog, grocery shop, grocery shop, grocery shop, go to a swim meet, sleep.

I am trying to write a book. And the fact that I haven’t pulled it out from under the magic toadstool or out of the velvet black hat as of yet is a matter of shame and guilt, regret and internal eye rolling. You’ve written three others; just get the damn thing done. Of course I did those without a job and with either no kids or in a different phase of parenting.

Today, I find the document on Dropbox. It takes me a moment; it hasn’t been touched since June. I find where I left off, and for 20 minutes I write. I just write. It’s reminiscent of the afternoon in August when Chris and I floated across a small lake in Wisconsin, holding hands, paddling a little, fluffy clouds overhead, no one around. Just us and the blessedly gnat-free, humidity-free air, the cool green water with its scent of algae and lively muck, the children out of sight back in the cabin doing who knows what. It was the most blessed hour of this entire summer.

When I write, I float. When I write, it all comes back – the ease, the pleasure. And as I read what I’ve put down I think, this is pretty good. Nothing to blow one away. Not the next best thing ever. But writing that deserves to be shared. Writing that  might be of use to others. 

Heavy sigh as I close the file.

I am trying to write a book. Trying.

News comes over the transom – an old high school friend has just entered hospice, a neighbor passed in his sleep, a great teacher has left this world. 

Watching Dr. Who last night with the kids – all of us in tears – as The Doctor prepares to “die” before regenerating. He is so sad, so in love with life. His final words are simple and profound, “I don’t want to leave.”

Just now, Tobey is getting ready to ride his bike to school. He came home yesterday and declared it “the best first day of school ever.” He went to bed eager to get up and go the next day.

So it’s the next day and he’s going to ride his bike. The doorbell rings. It’s a little boy who Tobey knows through family friends; “Can Tobey walk to school?” I look back at Tobey, thinking he’ll explain that he’s riding his bike. He doesn’t hesitate – picks up his backpack, gives me a kiss, walks out the door, says, “Hey, man,” in the best bro-friend way, and starts walking with the kid. As they get down the block, I can see Tobey briefly put his arm around the boy’s shoulder. And that’s when I walk into the kitchen, sit down by the pot of eggs I’m boiling, and cry. 

So short. So beautiful. I don’t want to go.


boatJunior high registration is Tuesday, the ice cream social Thursday. The beginning of the end. I spent this week contacting various teachers of lessons and coaches of sports, setting up the fall schedule. In just two weeks, that will be us rising at 6:30, going to soccer practice and band. That will be us having regular family meals and brushing out teeth in unison at night.

As it’s never broken 100 and hardly gotten into the 90s all summer long, it’s never quite felt like it got going. There is corn now and peaches; I know that we are at this apex moment. And yet my body feels like we’re still warming up, getting ready for the real thing. 

I am trying to remind myself of all of the things that happened that equal summer. There were the multiple drives to Camp Wapsie – first in a pouring rain in June to take the girls and then in a very cool July when I worried if Tobey had enough blankets and sweatshirts. There was the beautiful trip to Chicago with Tobey for film camp. The first night we had noodles at Joy Thai and again and again he stopped to say make an ‘mmmm’ noise and say how incredible they were. He looked at all of the gay guys walking by our cafe table, holding hands, kissing, and proclaimed, “This is a good experience for me.” We went to Blue Man one night and clapped and laughed, as I kept trying to get sideways glances of the nun standing next to me, wondering what she thought of the lengthy riff they do on shaking your booty. We had char burgers and “Kalamata chicken” at the Athenian Room, a restaurant my parents used to go to when they stayed in Lincoln Park. It’s a divey neighborhood spot attached to a bar where you have to go to get your drinks. The fries come floating in a special vinegar herb sauce. Tobey was dubious until he tasted one. Each day, we took the el, walking about six blocks from our rented apartment, getting off one stop later, and then walking another 10 blocks to the old theatre where the camp met. His script was chosen as one of the films to be made.

Earlier in the summer there was the Indigo Girls concert downtown. We were all there, but peeled away until it was just me. I found an old friend of Chris’ who was near the stage and we danced until the amazing encore of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Who knew I needed to dance to that song? At a little studio on the westside of town, there have been dance lessons, Chris and I stuttering our way through rumbas and foxtrots. And a memorable malted milk at Heyn’s with my kids. Last week, there were three nights in an old school cabin on a tiny lake in Luck, Wisconsin with a Monopoly game that never ended, floating on a blow-up air mattress across the lake while holding Chris’ hand, listening to Bella’s playlist that moved effortlessly between John Denver and John Legend, and then boating with Chris’ family on a bigger lake. We took beautiful pictures, all covered in mist from the splatter of the boat’s raucous joy.

I’d take another month, please, kind sir, if you’d give it. I have on my Oliver Twist voice now, and I’m imagining that we might ask earnestly and politely for just a bit more of this glorious, cricket-filled, peaceful time. Room in which to breathe. A few hotter days for bobbing about City Park Pool. 

On the way up to Luck, WI we sang “100 Bottles of Beer.” We sang it all the way through, something I’m not sure I’d ever done. As we got lower, below 50 and then into the 30s and the 20s, I could feel the mood shift in the car. There was a very palpable energy of camaraderie and excitement that we were truly going to see this thing through. It wasn’t going to be like the half-completed Monopoly game or the chore chart idea that never stuck. All together, we were going to get to one. 

As improbable as many of the great moments of our life are, this was one of the highlights of my summer. In a car, in the midst of beautifully rolling corn fields in northern Iowa, all of my family in a rented Chevy mini-van, gleefully singing toward the inevitable.


Stef Renee and Amy Tingle + Shakespeare

Thinking this morning of how good it is to be with other creators … longing still for a collaborator … but also trying to give myself permission to write and explore. Writing once or twice a week on a project, carving out time. Holding it close, going slow but steady, having faith.

Marveling at the crookneck squash plant in my humble garden – how it keeps putting out flowers but nary a squash as of yet. Wondering what’s up with that? Why don’t the flowers turn into little yellow veg?

Thinking of all of the places I want to go and soon! LA, Yosemite, always the northern Cali coast, Kripalu, Costa Rica, the Tetons. Scouring maps. Dreaming forward.

Hugging Tobey after a week at camp, so glad to still be able to bend down and smell his hair, pull him to me. Hearing about his bunkmates – the kid who was “mildly racist” and the other who just swore all week, sometimes repeating a single profanity over and over as though the thrill to say it was worth any reprimand he might receive from the college-age counselors. Tobey rolling his eyes at this, and yet my heart breaking a little at the reality of these kids and their lives. Thinking of the not one, not two, but three pro-gun t-shirts I saw on different passersby in downtown Iowa City this week.

Smiling at the biker-writers-photographers, the Type Rider II team of Maya Stein, Amy Tingle, Stef Renee and Maude, who just left after helping us throw a word party on the lawn of the Obermann Center. Thankful to live and work in a place where people gather to type and have words calligraphed on their limbs (“beauty,” “details,” “silly sausage,” “phoenix”) and perform poetry and mini-act plays. It was a dainty party but heartfelt – just right. As Teresa always says, the people who came were the ones who were meant to be there.

Convening in our living room, sharing projects. Finding friends in common despite living on separate coasts and in this in-between place. How alike we are when we stay in our little ponds of creative liberals; how connected. Thinking of a friend’s story from early this week of his company trying to start a project with a so-called gangster gardener who ended the meeting by ask-demanding, “So, are we gonna fuck?” and how unprepared the creative liberals were to answer him. How important it is for us to leave our ponds, but how startling it can be.

Laughing at the read-aloud porch party later in the evening – a group of friends taking turns reading Twelfth Night. I was Maria, the tart maid; Chris was the fool Feste:  “‘Hold thy peace, thou knave,’ knight? I shall be constrained in’t to call thee knave, knight.” (Say that one three times fast!)

And now, doing laundry – the dirty clothes from camp, every napkin and kitchen towel in the house. Preparing to teach two yoga classes tonight. Considering the week and its options, as though studying a map and its possibility of directions, its contours and telltale hues. Holding the beginning of the school year at bay a bit longer. Wishing on the squash. Trusting in art. Holding out offerings for new projects and ideas yet to hatch.


sofa“Eat what’s on your plate.” – Zen saying.

Yesterday I got lost on my way to yoga. I’m in Chicago and finding the old warehouse-studio took me over the river and behind a steel works, past an abandoned sofa and through an empty lot of blooming weeds. When I arrived, sweaty but just on time, I was met with the news that the teacher was sick and there was a sub. I’d intentionally sought the teacher out because of her work with Erich Schiffmann, and the class was gentler than I otherwise would have taken. But I was there and not eager to immediately retrace my steps, so I unfurled a threadbare borrowed mat in the light-filled space and settled in.

I love doing yoga when I travel. Every time I enter a studio, I experience an easing in my being. It’s a feeling of coming home, of re-finding my tribe. Even when a class does not hit the mark, it is welcome.

And this one did not hit the mark – which turned out to be a mark of its own.

I very un-yogically filed these suggestions, which struck me as empty and even nonsensical, under “Dumb Shit Yoga Teachers Say.”

The substitute had a sing-songy rhythm to her instructions that cloyed. She kept sprinkling in phrases like, “Milk it!” and “Oxygenate your blood!” I very un-yogically filed these suggestions, which struck me as empty and even nonsensical, under “Dumb Shit Yoga Teachers Say.” I’ve no doubt that some of my students have the same reaction to phrases I unmindfully drop during class.

It was good for me to be out of my comfort zone — necessarily modifying my own practice while watching how other students responded to the cues, and also picking up small tips, such as a new way to enter a wide angled forward fold. Taking a less than stellar class was an opportunity for a great class. It provided a reminder that yoga is not only the very specific meal we create ourselves – one that becomes more and more specific as we grow as practitioners, until we know the exact shape and texture of each bite. Nor is it always that exquisite, just-right feast prepared by a master teacher. Yoga also includes Happy Meals, kale shakes, Kosher pastrami, 6-course French tasting menus and everything in between. The substitute teacher at yesterday’s class served up a beautiful reminder, fully worth the price of a meandering walk, a bucket of sweat, and some cash.

bat-27I pulled the blanket tighter until I was cocooned. Checking for gaps, I turned my head this way and that, my eyelashes brushing against the Jennifer Lopez-brand cotton sheet. I had never imagined that the green sheet we bought last year when the mattress was new might ever serve as my protection, a thin, cotton membrane between me and the bat I could hear swooping around the room.

The sound of it thudding against our bedroom door had woken me up. I’d tried willing it into non-being. When that didn’t work, I tapped Chris awake with that question you never want to hear from your partner at 2 AM:  “You awake?” He grumbled, but once it was clear that the bat wasn’t giving up – it was going to keep head butting our door indefinitely – he went downstairs to find a bucket.

When he opened the bedroom door, a brown figure past me – a flash of Voldemort, a dash of Wild Kingdom. As it started its madcap dance overhead, I battened down the 400-threadcount hatches and tried not to panic. It was like that moment after you find an odd lump under your skin. I tried to slow my breath as I thought: It’s ok, everything is fine. Remember how much worse this could be; your house could be burning right now, your kid could be sick. It’s just a small animal that happens to have wings. They’re good for the environment.

Even after Chris chased it around the house and finally captured and released it, I stayed awake with super sonic ears, waiting. Waiting for the scary, bad thing that might come. It’s like we know it’s going to come – the sound of the car crash, the diagnosis. And we spend all of this time waiting for it to come. In dread and anticipation. How not useful is that?

When I was a kid, I was certain that Charles Manson was coming to my house. A not very sage teenage babysitter had let me watch the television movie Helter Skelter, from which I knew that Manson had been discovered hiding in a cabinet under a sink, a space not initially searched because it seemed too small until a highway patrolman noticed a hunk of hair sticking out from the door. This terrified me - the seemingly too small space, the sign that nearly went undetected. Of course, I knew he was in prison, but anyone capable of the utter crazy terror that Charles Manson had masterminded was capable of finding his way to my house.

For years, the fear of Manson and later Ted Bundy persisted. I’d take a shower and actually jump when I opened my eyes — there was always that part in the shampooing process when I pretty much had to close them — and no one was there. I’m not sure exactly when these fears relaxed, when I counted it as highly unlikely that anything so extreme would be in my path. Perhaps it was when there seemed to be more mundane and yet very real life things worthy of my fears – financial collapse, say.

Most of us expect to be scared these days. Movies and books are all about crazy military-produced vampires that live under highway underpasses or kids killing each other for the entertainment of televised masses. It’s become so mundane, this deep-seated cultural awareness that the fear is right there under the skin.  Which is also why it’s easy to believe ourselves immune or just numb to it.

We are not unlike the California populace of Joan Didion’s The White Album who were both terrorized by Manson and somehow not surprised:

This mystical flirtation with the idea of ‘sin’—this sense that it was possible to go ‘too far,’ and that many people were doing it—was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969…The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full. On August 9, 1969, I was sitting in the shallow end of my sister-in-law’s swimming pool in Beverly Hills when she received a telephone call from a friend who had just heard about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski’s house on Cielo Drive. The phone rang many times during the next hour. These early reports were garbled and contradictory. One caller would say hoods, the next would say chains. There were twenty dead, no, twelve, ten, eighteen. Black masses were imagined, and bad trips blamed. I remembered all of the day’s misinformation very clearly, and I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised.”

But it’s closer than some of us might admit. Try sleeping under fluttering wings — or whatever your “bat” may be — and fear is right there, quite alive. Living with bats this week (we’ve captured 15 of them as of this writing) has helped me to realize how much my fear is living just below the the surface. My Manson nightmares may be long gone, but it turns out that a bat is like a haiku version of the bloody epoch that was August 1969. Fear arises in milliseconds. Know that. And know that it’s what we do with it that is far more interesting than the reality of it.

I went through a period of being afraid to fly. When I was working on a book that took me to Los Angeles regularly, I was forced to observe it. For four hours at a time, sometimes several times a month, I got to buckle myself into a small seat and notice where the fear moved in my body, how it began, and what soothed it – even a bit. I got to see how each and every flight, it calmed and then ended totally when the wheels hit the ground. By the end of the book writing process, I could get on that LAX-bound plane and read or carry on a conversation without letting the fear yank me around. It was still there; a good-sized air pocket will still make me gasp. I was much better able to remind it that we’d done this before, though. We would land. The bat would fly away. Manson was a bizarre blip, and he’s still very much alive. Ironically, everything is more ok when I know that each of these things is real, its own improbable possibility.



gita-140One of the best things about my job is that it often lets me sit around tables with really interesting people. A few weeks ago, I got to stay up late at a cafe in Vegas’ Container Park talking about reforming higher education and revitalizing downtowns with two filmmakers/dreamers/idealists — one man who recently gave the commencement speech at the University of Iowa and the other who happened to grow up on the beach where I got married last fall.

Yesterday, I sat with a group of women around the attic table in the old house where I work. We are planning a literary celebration for a new Free Little Library and a visit by two cyclist-poets. As we tossed out ideas for literary-based games, one of us suggested flipping through a dictionary, closing your eyes, and landing on a word – it would be like receiving a fortune. The English PhD-theatre gal at the table lit up with a smile as she remembered the practice of people randomly choosing verses from the Bible — “Bibliiomancy!” she declared. How delightful to work somewhere where people pull veritable Scrabble words out of thin air and then give you the definition. (We  moved from this to “cenotaph,” a word I’d encountered the night before while reading Kavalier and Clay, but none of us could exactly put our finger on the definition of that one.)

And so tonight, sitting in my little yoga/reading/writing nook, a fan turned on full blast, a glass of rose sweating on the little table that holds a plant and my miniature Buddha statue, I open a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and flip. The pages whir past. My finger hovers and then presses down … here.

Just at this point, the reluctant warrior Arjuna has asked Lord Krishna to “give me some further examples of your glorious manifestations.” In the next stanzas, Krishna will name the highest mountain and the fleetest horse, the sound of Om and the thunderbolt. He is also death, the destroyer of all things.

But first he says:  “All right, Arjuna:  I will tell you a few of my manifestations. The most glorious ones; for infinite are the forms in which I appear. I am the Self, Arjuna, seated in the heart of all beings; I am the beginning and the life spam of beings, and their end as well.” [My emphasis.]

At this, I cried. Just as I cried earlier tonight while watching this documentary about a boy who made an arcade out of his father’s East LA garage. And yesterday while listening to two artists talk about their Overpass Light Brigade, a movement that started out of clever desperation and has grown as a joyfully and yet resolute mode of expression. Tears for the power of the Self to speak, to survive, to move forward against great odds.

After my moment with Krishna, I went to bathroom to wash my sweaty face. Often these days, I just see age when I look in the mirror - tired, dark circles, an unfamiliar person. But meeting the image of my face dripping with cold water, I looked into my blue eyes and saw some approximation of what Chris sees when he looks in them — infinite love, amazing power. The warrior and the god. Grace and tenacity. All of that just from some casual bibliomancy.

This summer evening may I suggest you pick up a book, choose a verse, and bow deeply to your SELF.


p.s. Check out these WACKY charts of the Bhagavad Gita:  http://manimandala.com/bhagavad-gita/bhagavad-gita-chapter-02/


yoga studioWhat (nearly) always brings you home?

What returns you to yourself?

Tonight:  Cranked up the music, unrolled my mat and practiced. Then I swept my little studio, drew warm water and scrubbed it clean. Sitting here now with a plant on the sill and the June evening beyond. Photos of my children on one shelf, friends and favorite places on the bulletin board. Above me, a wire angel made by a homeless man in LA. A quote calligraphed by a friend hanging on the wall. A zafu that belonged to a former student sitting on the clean wood floor.

It’s barely a cupboard, but it’s mine. And here lives everything I need to come alive, to reconnect to the basic pulse of life.

I don’t know about you, but how easily I forget this. We’re such silly, foolish, overworked people. We can always just return – though we tell ourselves differently. Take a deep breath and settle into that which has been here all along – the pen, the brush, the song, the bath, the woods. Dang, how easy was that?


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