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grasping wonder

The wonder that follows grief has a wider lens. The wonder that comes in the midst of grief is microscopic. The wonder that comes after a long winter invites it all. The wonder at the cusp of spring celebrates a single blade of newly bare grass as much as the eternal blue sky.

Some days wonder is hard to unhinge. It clasps itself shut, a 3-year old with arms clutched tight around her knees and her head nodding “No!” But stay with her long enough, ease yourself into her space and stay quiet and you’ll be able to see her body loosen and her whole self return to the practice for which she was created — curiously sponging up the world.

My wonder comes and goes, hides and seeks. There have been days in the last weeks when I thought it was gone entirely, when I had spiraled back to a dark place that I was sure I’d moved beyond. And then I’m pounced upon by a sky so mercurial in light and color that I gasp:  surely, I want more of this! I have a full-body sense that I’ll work with a certain person and am already in pleasure at the thought of creating something. I am resting with the cranes as they move north and hearing their conversation, its vibratory, ancient patois.

I sat in a dark hospital room with a friend the other night and watched the tubes that moved fluid in and out of her body, their choreographed dance either a menace or a miracle, depending on one’s mindset. I hate that hospital sometimes; it is the place where my father died and I feel that too-soon passing with a gashing pang. But I’m also often in marvel by the colony of people all focused on helping people to feel better, to collaboratively do their best to right the body’s injustices. In the dark, laughing with my friend, whose eyes sparkled despite having been given a particularly cruel series of injustices, I chose wonder. “It’s so gross,” she said, nodding to one of the outgoing tubes. Which I understood — none of us relishes our inner workings exposed to public view — and yet how amazing all that happens beyond our daily sight, all that comprises our “self.”

Some days, wonder is not in grasp. Some days it is balled up, rocking in a corner, afraid at what is next — what dire circumstance, what new pain. But often, it’s right there in front of us — a thing so small, so narrow, so magnificently plain that we refuse to see it. Recalibrate until you see it. It’s really the only worthwhile thing to do.

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invasive species

I’ve heard that we all have one tree. As I don’t believe that we all have one true love, rather a myriad who can suit us at different phases of becoming, I’m not sure if believe this. But I love the notion of “my” tree — each other’s guardians.

I must have seen my tree in 1997 when I was on a camping trip to Pt. Reyes. I’m pretty sure we pitched out tent nearby. I don’t recall it — recall only warnings from a neighboring camper that he’d seen a mountain lion the night before. Recall only staying up late with headlamps looking at Dan Eldon’s journals, my first encounter with this person who would so effect the course of my life.

Years later, I visited the same park, the same beach but with a different person, a different heart, a very shifted world view. And this time, I saw the tree. I was fell in love and have returned many times since, sometimes taking a detour just to get to this place.

Hiking toward the coast, it comes into view about 20 minutes before you reach it. As the path rises up, the ocean appears and there, on grassy cliff before the land lips dramatically down to the beach, stands this solo immense being. From that distance, it still looks small; and yet you know that you’re seeing it at all is a sign of its grandness.

Once arriving on that unlikely green patch where the rolling and often dusty scrub-filled hills through which you’ve been hiking have receded behind you and sea and beach are inviting you to run toward them at full force, the tree stands and seems to say:  Pause. I wonder how many hikers don’t hear this message and instead are thrust forward by the waves’ magnetic pull.

I go to Pt. Reyes for its full spectacle. On a trip with Bella about four years ago, we saw whales, dolphins, elk, a coyote, a fox, a sea elephant. It was spring and the land was as vibrantly green as Ireland. But I return to Pt. Reyes in large part for this tree. My giving tree. My touchstone. A center of many meditations. A keeper of secrets. A totem of the spiral of strength and surrender.

Last summer, I was talking with a friend who knows the California coast well and I told him about my tree. With just seconds of description of the path — Fire Lane Trail — and a little about the tree — yes, there’s often a swing hanging from a branch — he told me that it’s a Eucalyptus. I had decided long ago that this was a Coastal Live Oak, and yet every time I returned and tried to gain more identification, the more I knew this not to be the case. Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus, my friend told me, are an invasive species and a fire hazard, especially on the coast. They’re being actively removed from the hills around Berkeley and Oakland for this reason.

I love a colonizer. Or do I love a refugee? Brought here against its will, seeds from Australia planted here as ornamentals because eucalyptus grow quickly and their leaves have a wonderful scene (the dried leaves I’ve brought back still have a scent years later). How do I bring this fact into my meditations as I sit against this mighty creature, dwell imaginatively inside of her? How does it shift our love for anything, anyone when we learn a new piece of information that deepens and broadens our understanding of its origin story? No longer a beautiful tree that could have, like the redwoods, been in this area for millennia, this tree is an upstart whose ancestors arrived in late the 1800s. This lone sentinel was never meant to be here. But like the cows that roam Pt. Reyes and the cattle ranches that are grandfathered into this national park, she is very much part of my love for this place.

I have a tree. It is an imperfect tree. It doesn’t care one wit. And from that, I can learn a lot.

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atlas of experience

“Knowing what I do, there would be no future peace for me if I kept silent.” – Rachel Carson

We know so much more than we give ourselves credit for — each of us a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, an atlas of experience. We carry truths, subjective yes but still our truths, in our bones. We carry electricity and thunder in us. We carry the capacity for profound change and wakefulness.

We numb. We distract. We slumber. We douse the fires and take the socket out of the wall. We are the AI that disassembles itself.

We know this to be true. It is why Oliver’s precious life strikes such a cord and bears repeating and repeating. And yet … there is a hump, one put there by our culture’s bulwark against our inner power, that we mightily struggle to get over.

Push yourself over. Get a better ladder. Find different mates to help you. But dear one, keep trying to get over that hump. I know how easy it is to stay asleep. To watch that screen. To curl up. But we are all needed here. Every cell. Every node. Every power-filled idea that lives in you must come forth, roaring into the present moment.

Be here, as it’s said, now.

 

Art by Cory Hunter
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reclaiming this day

In first grade, I had the chicken pox on Valentine’s Day and had to stay home from school. A bag of cards from some of my classmates was delivered so that eventually the bag sat on my belly as I laid in bed. It was before the craze of attaching candy and before you were expected to give every kid in the class a card. The bag held proof of those who actually thought of me in my absence. It was just months after I was the only kid in the class who didn’t vote for Nixon in our election, and the cards were not plentiful.

In college, I dyed my hair fuchsia hue, put on a burgundy velvet dress that had been my grandmother’s. It was sleeveless, and hence it felt sexy compared to the oversized sweatshirts I lived in, but really it looked like a flapper dress worn in a play and was more sack than body wrap. I waited in the cheap motel, all that I could afford though still it felt elegant and risque, for my boyfriend who was following a series of clues to find me. I had champagne, something I didn’t yet like, and thought myself very clever. He arrived. We swam in the small pool, ate the food I’d brought, and then fell into an enormous fight that left- us sleeping in different parts of the room.

Sewing pink, red, and white buttons in a heart shape on a long sleeved pink tshirt, size child’s 7. For my daughter. There’s a photo of her wearing it. She has a smudge of chocolate on her mouth and is pulling at the hem of the shirt to fully show off the heart. It was a rare moment of crafting success.

Today, a red tshirt is my only nod in the direction of this day. I am sending love to those in need. I am with those who reclaim this day. I will buy myself flowers – tomorrow, on sale, and anoint myself in rose oil. Mainly, I will meditate on what is the the most radical thing I can do to reclaim love in this aching world. Beyond buttons and dyed hair, beyond chicken pox and Nixon. My heart is shredded with grief and yet still strong. She knows she has more work to do.

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we used to dance here

We used to dance here in this living room,
Bobbing, twisting, embracing.

There were angry rants:  blaring, staccato.
And half-hearted tangos – duende.
Swoops of ecstasy, eye to eye, heart to heart
We danced all the way to our bed.

We used to dance here in this living room,
Bobbing, twisting, embracing.

The first time I saw you dance we were in New Orleans.
I was amazed and a little frightened; I had no idea all of that movement lived in you.

You took me to a dance on the day after our wedding. A big California hall with nose-ringed, tattooed, smiling souls.

In a fit of discomfort, I stormed out, walking the trails behind the building. Glaring with  outsider shame and dis-grace.

We met on the dance floors of bar mitzvahs, block parties, and weddings. We took lessons with the Russian teacher who patiently led us forward and back, left and right, his own spine never showing a hint of a curve.

There were ebullient waltzes and disjointed rumbas.
Cranked up high: the Doobie Brothers, Talking Heads, Louis and Ella.

Dances of wounded hearts and broken bones
Dances of wonder and questioning.

Reels, mazurkas, fox trots
The hustle, the twist, the time warp.

Rain dances when quenched,
Ghost dances when abandoned.

We used to dance right here. In this room.
Bobbing, twisting, embracing.

You scribed your name on another’s card.
She cut in, no permission asked.
A body slam, the mosh pit, a head jerk.
Dancing out of here, into there.

This weekend, in a sunny room in Minnesota,
Geraniums brilliantly blooming against the frigid windows,
I danced alone. Danced with memories of all those other dances.

Danced in gratitude. Danced in sorrow.

I dance it now, right here in this room. Dhikir, the Sufi dance of listening and remembering.

Angry, tear-filled, laughing, subdued
Each step gliding, stuttering into the arms of the first partner: Impermanence.
Swirling all the way to the horizon of unknowing.

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waking up from the invisible

I sat on the sofa with my kids the other night to watch the Oval Office address about the wall. The wall that is the elephant of all times. There was something quaint about it — all in a row, waiting for the exact moment, our television beaming us to a room in Washington, DC, as we shared the experience with millions of other of our country people. I kept thinking of FDR’s fireside chats and families gathered around the radio.

What came into our space was not new — absolutely nothing new or original was said. And as we peeled away the language, all that were left were the bones of lies.

A pile of bones of lies is most dispiriting. It makes us want to stop listening and tune out. (The awkward, robotic Democratic response did nothing to make any of us care more.) It is crazy making.

Two friends have brought me back to a book that I read years ago, Adrienne Rich’s On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. I intend to find it in my basement boxes this evening, but for now I am thankful for Brainpicking’s entry on it. Most grateful am I for this:

We take so much of the universe on trust. You tell me: “In 1950 I lived on the north side of Beacon Street in Somerville.” You tell me: “She and I were lovers, but for months now we have only been good friends.” You tell me: “It is seventy degrees outside and the sun is shining.” Because I love you, because there is not even a question of lying between us, I take these accounts of the universe on trust: your address twenty-five years ago, your relationship with someone I know only by sight, this morning’s weather. I fling unconscious tendrils of belief, like slender green threads, across statements such as these, statements made so unequivocally, which have no tone or shadow of tentativeness. I build them into the mosaic of my world. I allow my universe to change in minute, significant ways, on the basis of things you have said to me, of my trust in you.

[…]

When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust. For a while, we are thrust back onto some bleak, jutting ledge, in a dark pierced by sheets of fire, swept by sheets of rain, in a world before kinship, or naming, or tenderness exist; we are brought close to formlessness.

This helps me to frame the past few years of my life and relationship when I often felt crazy — made to believe I was the one who had problems, that I was the one who wasn’t fully honest. And it brings into focus the sense of formlessness I’ve experienced as the lies have unraveled.

When we are lied to again and again, whether by someone we love, such as a partner or a parent, or by someone we are taught that we are supposed to trust, our leaders, our teachers, our textbooks, our doctors, to name a few, we start to feel invisible and crazy. When one is formless, how can one be in action? How can one resist and push back?

There are moments of waking up — they often surface and dive back down again, these moments of recognition; we can’t always sustain them — when we suddenly see/feel/recognize the manipulation of the lies and when we fiercely want to be IN FORM and to ACT. Often, the terror of doing so and what that might mean is exactly what pulls us back under. As one friend wrote of the current shut-down – shame on the president and shame on me for not walking to DC and planting myself in front of the White House. If we all woke up and stayed that way – eyes wide open, bravery no longer a state but a given, then what would happen?

I have been grappling with questioning the last decade of my life and its veracity — the truth of my emotions, the truth of intimacy. I am thankful for how the experience as much as it’s “thrust [me] back onto some bleak, jutting ledge” has also brought me into greater understanding of how we all, through gender, through race, through our familial stories, through patriarchal systems based on power and subterfuge, are lied to and how when we have an inkling of those lies start to spin into this formlessness.

It is this non-state from which we must effort to wake up, to will ourselves into delicious, bold being. Through art making, movement, and standing silently in the woods, we must arrive back into the simple truth of being a body, of being visible.

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tell me another

“What matters in life is not what happens to you, but what you remember and how you tell it.”  – Gabriel García Márquez
 
One of my biggest interests right now is storytelling. There’s the “Let’s get together around a pot of soup and swap yarns,” kind, which is communal and vital. There’s also the matter of understanding ourselves and our world through new and different lenses, which feels absolutely necessary. 

This year contained a major U-turn in my life as my marriage — What? What did my marriage do? It came apart. It changed. It ended. What did my husband do? Disappointed. Shocked. Spoke truth. What do I call him now? How did I react to what he did?

Completing the sentence, “Last June … ” leads me into this semantic obstacle course. There are multiple versions of what happened that seem to contradict each other and yet also are all true. My truth. here are also multiple and seemingly contradictory versions that all meet his truth. Only a few live in any kind of Venn diagram area.

When my first marriage ended (even that short phrase is awkward and awful and yet true and increasingly amusing to me — as though I were Liz Taylor with a highball in one hand and my foot running up the leg of some of other man this very moment), there was pretty much one story. Better yet, it was an agreed upon story. We had run out of gas, run our course. We’d both run as hard as we could and were mutually agreed that we were exhausted.

The present story is deconstructed, a cubist variation on multiple themes. In this way, it reflects the state of the world and how so many stories are simultaneously true and, thus, simultaneously false. It’s a funhouse of possible narratives. For instance, as the new and more diverse Congress begins its work, we’re in the midst of a government shutdown. We are starting and stopping all at once. We can justifiably tell the story of a democracy that is failing and dying, and also the story of democracy being reborn and strengthened by new voices and energy.

Story interests me because it’s an accessible way for us all to take apart and put back together many aspects of our worlds. There are so many stories that can be told in response to questions such as: “What is education and why do we have school?” and “What does it mean to be healthy and what is a society’s responsibility toward that health?” Imagine answering these questions in the form of myth, folklore, the hero’s journey, tragedy, and satire. Each version will expose another tendril of hope and another stray hair of lie.

We are all storytellers (“Yeah, tell the one about when your mom found you in the car with your pants inside out!”). We tell and we receive a plethora of stories every day. But how we complicate and resist the stories that have been stuck on re-run for much too long can potentially free us to become someone new.

When I attended a storytelling workshop in October, one young woman began with a story about how she hadn’t liked her college major. In the story, she was at a lake reflecting on how she’d followed her parents’ advice and ended up in an area that didn’t really suit her. That was her first written version. It was lifeless and featured a girl who was defeated. When she responded to our questions, it turned out that during the trip, she’d used her microbiology major to understand the dense, layered life of the lake in a way that none of us could have done. She also understood it as a metaphor for the building blocks of life, including her own. A few hours later, when she told us a new version of the story, she had become a sparkling hero at the center of the tale. The degree was now a stepping stone that made sense to her aspirations. I sensed that her understanding of that period of her life and of herself had shifted in this new telling. She had evolved beyond the expected version.

What happened to me last summer? I’m still working on that. There were characters, themes, and settings that were not as they first appeared–which was more like a love song, circa 1978. Let’s face it, Captain and Tenille hardly worked in the realm of Orpheus; Lionel Richie wasn’t Beowulf. As I tell it to myself anew, playing with every component, the less I am trapped by an inevitable outcome. The story is far from done.