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Re-pair

The socks await each other.

The lone earring, returned from France without its partner

Sits in the bowl by my bed without purpose.

 

I wake every morning and one of my first thoughts,

Whether remnants of a dream through which I just passed

Or of that past waking life,

Is of my partner with whom I paired my Self —

Gone. Living a life I will never know when I’d thought I’d know it all.

———-

“Jennifer New, you are a do-er,” my friend Sarah said to me,

Not with anything like judgement but with simple observation.

And yet I felt a sting.  A small voice:  “I want to be a be-er.”

 

Repose. Recline. Rekindle. Reinvigorate. Renew.

 

I make lists of my work:  Work I’ve committed to, work I want to do.

And it’s too much–each list a dissertation in its own right.

That is clear, even to me, the one who tries to do it all.

What if you add rest to each list? a friend suggests.

—————

Yoga: to yoke, to bring union to the two parts —

Breath and body, spirit and physical, masculine and physical.

Do-er and Be-er.

Re-pair that which is out of balance and make whole.

 

This being is harder than it looks. Squint and you’ll miss it.

For those of us who wake to the aching of this world–

Yesterday’s shootings, everyday’s shrinking forests–

There is a hurryupandosomething urgency that screams for doing and more doing,

Bold-faced, capitalized, non-stop doing.

 

Repair begins here (I place one hand on my heart and the other on my belly).

Repair begins with sitting still long enough to listen with kindness.

 

The other earring that fell off somewhere in France is living its own life

I hope it’s one of coffee and pastis, of art and conversation.

The one here in the bowl will rest until a new purpose emerges.

 

Perched on the edge of Sunday, it is so tempting to start a list,

To plan a project that will sit shamefully semi-finished.

Harder to go to the pool and read a book

That is what I am do-ing.

 

 

 

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this must be the place

Home (is where I want to be) from crossing zones and oceans. The first pot of coffee is percolating, the laundry is sloshing about, and the mail has been sorted.

Home was briefly in Paris, Honfleur, Dinan, and London. Home was briefly borrowed from others. Home was briefly without the daily amenities but with new ones, namely croissants, museums, and a cacophony of languages and accents.

In the dark last night as I settled my bones into my blessedly familiar bed–a return to the womb of sorts, I spoke out loud the gratitude for this trip:  gratitude for the resources to make it possible, to those who nourished the home front, for the sweet time with my daughter and her willingness to share these fleeting weeks before she leaves, for everyone who helped us along the way–giving directions, recommending places, cooking and cleaning, for the fuel we consumed and will try to offset.

Gratitude is the ground of travel, not ‘fun.’ We leave in order to be in the midst of others, our empathy muscle getting a much needed workout for when we return and read about others in the news and try to imagine their lives, their faces, their eyes. We leave in order to interact with the past and listen to its stories of loss and knowledge more loudly than the whispers provided by books and the Internet. We leave in order to be in the midst of trees and flowers with different names, soil of a different hue, and birds with feathers that are new to us.

We leave in order to remember how it feels to come home.

So much of the time in France, we drove through corn, which was funny because we’re always driving through corn here in Iowa. But there, the fields are rung in trees and high bushes; the fields are more like cozy patios of green than endless big box stores of never ending plant life. It was home with an accent, home through that new set of lenses the optometrist offers. Corn but not corn.

I woke up at 3 AM today — 9 AM in western Europe — and could feel myself falling into the quicksand of anxiety, much like the dangerous stuff we’d read about on the beaches of Mont St. Michel. Graduation:  over. This trip, so long planned: over. My house, which I sense in my gut I am ready to leave, was quiet as I tried to hold on to the ground and not fall into the hole. I fell back asleep and awoke with energy and gladness.

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place. – David Byrne

Curled up on one of the borrowed beds in London with Kathryn having our “John and Yoko moment”, we talked about being alone. One must really be alone, fully alone, to truly understand oneself, she said. My heart pulsated with knowing this is true, and yet it’s also the Truth that had me falling into quicksand at 3 AM.

Unspooling into being alone has been happening since last summer. At first, it was pure Terror. Then it turned to a dull sadness. I no longer come home to a familiar face, or have someone to text updates to when I travel. There are reminders, many so small and so fleeting and yet gut-punching, that I am alone.

But there is an unexpected and parallel pleasure in this, a sense of arriving at the place I know that I am supposed to be right this minute in life. A sense of moving into the home of me.

I guess, this indeed must be the place.

 

 

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rooted / uprooted

Two friends’ jointly written blog post came through the transom last night announcing they were hitting the road – selling their house – and beginning a period of wandering. Everything they wrote hit me just right, in that tingling “yes this” sort of way. Freeing themselves of ghosts, living outside the tyranny of economies, and being open to what is.

On my same late-night, can’t-sleep meander, I came across a sort of commune workspace in LA called The Birds Nest that seems to be about growing food in community, sharing skills, rethinking systems, gathering wisdom from elders. It, too, was spot on. It, too, made me tingle with possibility.

My central question for awhile, but coming ever into focus, is: Can one be rooted and uprooted?

In the past year’s tumult, I have grown ever more aware of and grateful for my current community — those who have looked out for me have included old friends but also many new ones. The latter have reminded me that friends are available everywhere and at all times, if we share our authentic selves and are porous enough for them to offer a spot of water. The former remind me of what is earned through time spent in presence.

While my system mightily senses changes rumbling and gurgling just over there (squint hard enough and I can see it) — roots aching to jump to a new time zone, a different terroir — there are other ways in which my taproot has grown threefold and is firmly planted in this soil of oak and prairie.

What does exploration + community look like? How do they coincide?

All of this is mixed into a rich slurry of questions about my talents and creativity, where I might do most good in this knocked up crazy world – questions that percolate, ooze, simmer, and periodically produce an aroma of inspirational hope. I feel my elder stripes growing darker and more ready to be seen in the world. I sense my presence deepening.

As I set off this morning for time on the road with my daughter, I know all of this will be beating around in the back of my heart, listening for possibilities. If you have any insights on this rooted/unrooted conundrum, message me. I’m listening.

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Pockets of life. Ping of response.

Walking in the dusk, I see people in their lamplit rooms reading, doing the dishes, talking on the phone. Each one a pocket of a life lived in a larger garment of other lives. A single comb in the complex hive.

In the winter, I am comforted knowing that the bulbs I planted in November are alive under the earth, no matter how frozen the top layer. And that nearby the deep roots of the oak trees and lilac contain sap that carries energy, even if in slow motion, to and fro.

On nights that are quiet-bad, I take solace knowing that across the Atlantic, Kathryn is asleep, and on the shores of the Pacific, Kathy is getting read to go to a party; a few blocks away, Sarah might be licking a pot clean after a late dinner, Dan is heading out on a dog walk, and Kristin is kneeled at the bathtub in which one of her kids is splashing.

On nights that are quiet-good, I can’t suppress an inward Mona Lisa grin, knowing that me-sad is a night away, and me-content is a week away, and me-much-better is a year away, and we all live together in unison just waiting for the one to catch up with the other.

A few weeks ago, I read that a food writer I admired died, and I mourned that quiet, small mourning that so often happens with the obituaries:  a sudden pang of loss for someone you didn’t know you might ever miss. It can happen even with someone you’ve never heard of before, so that in a single column of newsprint in which her invention of a transformative animation technique is pressed between birth in Cleveland and death from cancer, her presence suddenly feels urgently necessary and your heart is pinched at this unexpected gaping hole in the fabric of your known reality.

This moment, my daughter is on the cusp of waking under an equatorial sky in Tanzania. She is far away, and the ether stretches full around, a line of light and clouds and air that touches us both. Good morning, I whisper into the Iowa night, and though she cannot hear me, I sense a boomerang of response, a ping of reply.

It goes on. In tandem. To the horizon. Simultaneously. As we sit in our lamplit rooms, focused on clipping our nails, paying a bill, sweeping the floor. Living in this small pocket of now.

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get up

I couldn’t get up. I’d fallen and couldn’t get up. The bed held me, just as last night the wine held me. And I tried to remember why I should get up. My phone gave me junk mail,  no messages from friends, no announcement that yes I was wanted and my talents were needed right now in this particular place with this particular group of people to solve this problem. I’ve been waiting for that message for a long time, and am slowly waking up to the fact that it will not come. Instead, my phone told me that the leaders of China and North Korea are meeting. That a drone was shot down over Iran. That the border teems with sorrow. My phone showed me photos of happy vacations elsewhere by other people who I hardly know. And still the bed held me. Coffee wasn’t reason enough. The sun outside not enough. My kids, either in bed or doing their own thing with friends, not enough. No human touch is on its way. No gaze. No shared confidence. Me — I had to get up for me. To shower and bathe my body with its 50s years of service. To find clothes that please and feel good to the touch. To make coffee as a ritual. To find the leash and let the dog guide me into this June morning. I have fallen and fallen again and each time I get up it is a practice of mastering love. Practice isn’t easy, but it’s familiar. And again and again I choose to get up.

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weeding

It was the perfect day to hold a hoe, to hit the earth, to chant out loud, and to clear a row.

“Have you ever used a scraper hoe?” my farmer friend asked. “No,” I told her, but trying to sound more earnest than sassy — because I really wanted to be of use — I added, “but I’m a quick study!”

She’s a serious one, the farmer. A good one. Someone who might seem a bit intimidating from afar. But in getting to know her, it just seems there’s a no-fuss approach that runs deep. I appreciate this; I share a similar streak.

She took me to a long row approximately the length of a short-course swimming pool and told me that it held tomatillos. It looked to me to hold a lot of weeds, but as she pointed out the small plants, only a few inches high, I began to see a pattern.

It had rained last night, and I knew from my front flower garden and the handful of weeds that I’d pulled from it this morning that it was a good day to yank a living thing, roots and all, from the earth. I bent down and pulled at a weed expecting to extract it easily, as if it were greased. Instead, it clung obstinately to the cracked and clumpy soil, breaking low on its stem.

All of the rain, my friend explained, had turned the clay-heavy ground into cement. “The results of industrial farming,” she said ruefully.

Midwestern farmers have long depended on drainage tile to remove excess water from fields. But it also carries away nutrient-rich top soil. The existing tiles in Iowa alone would reach to the moon and back — two times. This micro farm is an attempt at something different.

While I bent and pulled and tried to figure out what was a weed and what was a plant, I thought how everyone should have to do work like this on a regular basis to better understand where there food comes from and the challenges to grow it free of chemicals and in a way that replenishes the earth instead of suffocating or draining of it anything vital. This should be part of every kids’ schooling. In the long run, it strikes me as way more necessary than much of the curriculum.

As I started into my weeding project, scraping and whacking, it amazed me that anything grew in this dirt. There were so many rocks that it seemed I could have paid homage several times over in a small cemetery. I pulled them into a pile and then leaned down and scooped them into the path that separated me from some cabbage. (Today, my back feels the effort.)

The other challenge was that the primary weed I was removing looked remarkably like the adolescent tomatillos. It was a cruel joke. Like there was a real oak and a pretend, “bad” oak side by side, and I had to play God and decide which was which. Sometimes the tomatillos had a yellow flower, a showy give-away of their true identity. I also discovered partway into the project that I could use the hoe to gently pull back the leaves:  a red stem indicated the weed, a gray stem was the real deal.

The chant from my yoga teacher training bubbled up out of nowhere–Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya–and I started it up at a low hum–repeating and repeating with ease. The other sounds that accompanied me:  A worker’s dog yipped whenever her owner got too far out of view. A herd of sheep from across the gravel road occasionally baahed at an audible level. And a mower kept at its insistent chore in a nearby field.

The work was hypnotic. The weather perfection with a bright blue sky and a strong breeze. When I had just a few yards left to go, I paused to admire how clean the rows looked. The plants, which had previously disappeared into the chaos, now dotted the bed at an orderly pace, separated by irrigation hoses. I didn’t want the task to end, although my hands were sore and chapped, and I could feel that the decision not to put on sunscreen, thinking it was late enough in the day to be safe, had been a poor one.

Once I was done (though weeding is never really done, it’s just an improvement on what was and within hours can seem pitifully insufficient), I set my nifty hoe against the barn and walked to pick up my CSA batch–an overflowing bag of the expected, including sweet lettuces and tiny carrots, and the challenging. I nearly passed at the fennel but then recalled my intention to learn to make mussels with fennel and Pernod.

On the drive home, a podcast asked: “When was the last time a few hours flew by without you noticing?” I smiled. How lovely not have to pause for a moment toward an answer.

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break

“There’s a way not to be broken that takes brokenness to find it.” – Naomi Shihab Nye

We fanned our programs left to right, forward and back, with the flick of a wrist to keep the air moving across our sweaty faces,

As the 17- and 18-year olds took to the stage at the far end of the sports arena.

One by one, their names were announced with solemnity by their Vice Principal, who only paused once for water as he moved from A to Z.

They walked in Van’s and heels, Chucks and Chacos, loafers and Crocs, called forth to The Next, called forth to Be-Come.

As I tried to catch a bit of breeze from my ex-husband’s program which he fanned next to me, I couldn’t help but think how each of the graduates will suffer terribly.

Maybe not soon. Maybe tomorrow.

There will be a moment of wrenching loss, a period of bleak desolation, a shock of painful honesty.

Break! — we dare of them. Break because it is the only way forward.

(And all of the geometry in the world, every last band concert and hall pass and smear of lip gloss will not save you from it.)

Break! — we try to warn them. Break because it is inevitable.

(And the best college or the fiercest military service, that mundane cubicle job or the trip into the disappearing rain forest will not change that. Staying single or placing your bets on a polyamorous post-post modern world will not change that. Gluten free or meat and potatoes will not change that.)

Break! — we hum from our own broken hearts. Break because it is freeing.

In the cracks, you’ll discover another layer of yourself and yet another below that.

In the cracks, you’ll mine the gold of your own Self, that person who is so much more intricate than school has ever hinted at.

You’ll discover a golden hue more rapturous than any revealed by your art teachers,

an element that may bear the atomic table number 79 but that is far rarer than your chemistry teacher suggested

a vein so unfathomably deep, it would make any of the California miners you encountered in 10th grade gape.

Break open and you will be illuminated in ways that the sweat on your brow and the arena’s overhead lights on this humid May evening can only whisper is possible.