I offer you not a finely turned out meal, the flavors carefully planned to form an arc of revelation, moving from salty to sweet, subtle to sublime. I offer you, rather, humble scrambled eggs.
Hurry, hurry, Mary dear.
In an hour we get snow!
Drifts like houses! Ten below!
~ N.M. Bodecker
As with this book – lovingly read over and over in our house – which portends the disaster of winter at every page and with every rhyme, I keep feeling like IT will be here any minute. Winter with its ice and sub-zero howling. Winter with cold feet and cold nose, not to be warmed no matter how high I sheepishly turn the thermostat.
These warm days, I think, have been a fluke gift. Which isn’t so different from how I feel about Life sometimes – that the whole dang thing is ending before we even know it. Who let my daughter get so tall? Who allowed my son to have such a witty vocabulary? They’ll be gone tomorrow, and I’ll be trying to figure out Medicaid and wondering why didn’t I stay at Microsoft and build up that 401K.
Darkly, I think: Who knows when the semi will come around the corner? When the big tree branch will fall just so. Freakish stories stick in my mind. An old neighbor hit while biking in Australia; a friend’s mother run over by a utility van while visiting Las Vegas. Or the illnesses – so sudden, so unknown, growing inside us without us even knowing it. Any day. Any time. Be prepared.
Then: Breathe, Jennifer. Breathe.
I had a picnic lunch with an old friend yesterday – sprawled in a park on November 9th. How odd. She is in town visiting family, and we’re catching up not on months or weeks but on years. A filmmaker, hers have been more colorful than mine. Several films have been toiled over – her hair pulled out out over one particularly crazy producer – since we saw each other last. The stories are fascinating – security checkpoints in Senegal, film festivals – but hardly even recognizable to someone who spends her weekends at soccer games and writes updates for the school newsletter. I tell her about my work, my search for employment. And then it comes: She looks into my eyes, lowers her voice a bit, and pulls her lightening bolt from her bag: “What do you want to do? What do you really want to do – if money weren’t an issue. If where you lived weren’t an issue.”
I wait for the semi to thud into me. Because if I don’t know, it will surely come.
She is not the first to ask. There’s been a string of well-intentioned, admirable women who have asked me this. I think they all think they’re the first; they’ve come up with the Magic Question that might help me to clarify it all. But when they ask, I feel deaf and dumb. I don’t know, I think down to the depth of my not-yet-winterized soul. I don’t know. I panic. I wait for the semi to thud into me. Because if I don’t know, it will surely come.
This time, though, I try a new tact. I describe what I’m good at, what I enjoy, and how – truthfully – exactly what I do is less important than that I can use these skills to good end, working with good people in a healthy environment. The texture of the experience is more important than the what of the experience.
This conversation between single, childless filmmaker and divorced, mother writer sends me off on an odd tangent of a game I sometimes play. It involves thinking up women artists of every ilk and sleuthing out whether they had children or not. Did Eva Hesse have children? (No.) Did Helen Levitt? (Seems not.) Did Martha Graham? (No.) Does Debby Harry? (No.) Does Cindy Sherman? (No, though according to Wikipedia she is dating David Byrne, which strikes me as utterly bizarre.) With my discoveries, I search for maternal clues, wondering how each woman’s work might have been different if she’d had children; if she longed for children but didn’t have the opportunity; if she knew that if she had kids, she’d some day find herself sitting on a park bench being asked: BUT WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT TO DO?
If the what is less important than the texture – the way in which the every day unfolds -then why can’t I entirely rid myself of caring about the what? I return to chapters from Stephen Cope‘s book on yoga and psychology; one is about what he calls “The Identity Project”; the other is about what he dubs “The Reality Project.” The former is about tearing down our attachment to all sorts of ways in which we prop ourselves up through identification – work, kids, clothing, home decor, make of car, facebook status.
“We cling desperately to every outward and visible representation of ‘me’ and ‘mine,’ building our lives around the most gross apparent realitities, which are by their nature the most impermanent aspects of the whole enterprise,” Cope writes. He continues, “It turns out that when we lift the lid just the tiniest bit on our internal dialogues, we discover that we’re constantly trying to shore up our ‘sense of self,’ reassuring oursevlves that we’re actually real, solid, and continuous.” In other words – that winter is coming but we have enough food in storage, our clothes are warm enough, or roof sufficiently sturdy, and we’ll be fine.
So how do we get beyond this anxiety about storing up acorns and comparing the make of our wool socks, about identifying with our STUFF – including what we do? Reality, Cope suggests, is based on clear vision (not surprising) and also on cultivating what he calls a “calmly abiding self” – that is, a “nonreactive, non-judgmental, quality of acceptance.” Another word he uses is equanimity.
Ha! This summer – totally forgetting anything I’d read in Cope – I scrawled in my yoga journal: SEEK EQUANIMITY. WHAT IS EQUANIMITY? (I love it when I seek and try to define a thing at the same time, as though I’d written, “Head West! Where is West?”)
And then I wrote a definition, taken from I know not where: Neither a thought nor an emotion, equanimity is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience.
A few weekends ago, I went into the yard and pruned. My plans for the day had fallen through, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Peevish and angry – then shameful for feeling that way. It all came out in my shears, which snip-snapped their way through bushes, shrubs, and treelets. As I hacked, the piles grew, and so did some odd sense of security and capability. I wore my gloves. I used my twine. The bundles neatly lined the curb. My dad, an ardent pruner, would have been proud. (In fact, he once gave me a pair of pruning shears, which along with a small cast iron skillet for making grilled cheese sandwiches, is one of the only gifts I can recall him purchasing for me all on his own.) He used to prune things within an nth of their lives – or so my mother said. Most of them lived, and I’m sure he always felt better for the mortal combat. More in control of his domain. Ready for winter. Safe with his shears.
Weather.com tells me it will certainly rain on Friday. It will certainly get cooler – colder even. In a few weeks, who knows, there may be snow. Piles and drifts, perhaps. I may have more work; I may not. The stove could break for good, and so could my car. One of us could get the flu. The semi may appear. Will I know any better what I really want to do? Doubtful. But might I have sunk a micro-movement closer to equanimity? This seems possible. And as satisfying as scrambled eggs.