Hineini: here I am

Decades ago, I belonged to a therapy group that drew on both talk and movement. One week we did an exercise in which group members took turns leading the others in improvised movement: dancing, swooping, jumping, anything they felt like doing. When a leader had enough, they would pass the role on to someone else.

Afterward, as we sat in a circle, people said that I seemed half-hearted when it was my turn to lead. I confessed that they were right: I was tired, my back hurt, and I didn’t feel like moving at all. I felt like lying down on my back and resting.img_20200428_170718701_hdr-1

Well then, they asked: why didn’t you do that?

My response: I didn’t think I was supposed to. I thought we were supposed to move, and so I moved, even though I wanted to lie still.

In a way, that’s the story of my life: trying to live up to other people’s expectations of me, or what I think they expect, even when I need something different. (Well, that’s part of the story of my life. Another part is where I disregard what other people think and feel, because I’m so sure I know better. Fortunately, I think that part is mostly behind me.)

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Have a good day

“Have a good day.”

We bestow that wish upon strangers: cashiers, call-center employees, mail carriers. Or, if we work in one of those service jobs, upon customers. When I say it, I mean it.

SmileyEven if the person hasn’t helped me very much, even if I thought they were rude, I do want them to have a good day. Especially if they’re stuck in a crummy job where people treat them poorly.

What does that “good day” involve? I suppose I’m extending a wish that the person’s needs be met: financial security, good health, fulfillment on the job and/or in other pursuits. Love and happiness.

What I wish for myself, however, is a different story.

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Falling out of the pose

“Falling out of the pose is part of the pose,” I once heard a yoga teacher say.

This advice goes beyond “if at first you don’t succeed…”

For sure, trying and trying again are essential to the practice of yoga — that’s why it’s called practice. And for sure, there is an ideal way to do any given pose.yoga-woman-tree-pose

But the saying about falling out of the pose contends that there’s more than one way to succeed. That if you can’t achieve the ideal, or a modification of the ideal, you can still succeed, simply by external-content.duckduckgo.comtrying. That trying and failing is a form of success. And that falling out of the pose is not a question of if but when: there will be times when you have to make repeated attempts. There will be times when a pose simply eludes you, no matter how hard you try.

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Take out the trash

I have a recurring dream in which I’m at someone’s house — sometimes I live there in the dream, although not in real life; sometimes I’m a guest — and I need to take out the trash.

Well, not the trash exactly. Not stinky smelly nasty rotting garbage. Sometimes it’s recyclables, piled up in a garage or basement or storeroom. Sometimes it’s yard waste — bags and bags and bags of it.

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Either way, it’s a large accumulation, weeks’ or more likely months’ worth. And now it’s the eve of the pickup day, and I need to shlep it all out to the curb. It will take numerous trips, and it’s getting late, and even if the people who live in the house (my parents, in some dreams) aren’t worried about it, I know it’s my job to clear it out.

I don’t remember having that dream last night, but I woke up this morning thinking about it. Why, I wondered, do I repeatedly dream about this mundane household chore? Continue reading

Lessons relearned

In genealogy research, a cardinal rule is: work from what you know. Paper records and family members’ recollections will get you further than hunches and what-ifs.

In my life, a cardinal rule is: ask for help. Even if you’re afraid that no one will respond, or that their responses will be disappointing, or that you’ll look stupid for asking. Truly the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll come up empty — the same place you’ll be if you don’t ask.

When I recently learned these lessons — again — they produced the breakthrough I’ve been searching for.

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Press ‘publish’

In 1935, my grandmother’s brother ambushed his ex-wife and her boyfriend, shot and wounded them both, then killed himself.

Around 1975, I heard the story for the first and last time. You can imagine that it made an impression.

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Sometime in the 2010s, I decided to investigate this family tragedy/scandal/secret. Then I decided to write about it, more for therapeutic reasons than anything else. I finished a draft that I liked a lot, but it was written for myself and family. Revising it for a general readership turned out to be harder than I expected. (By this time my Lyme-induced brain fog and anxiety had kicked in big-time.) So I sat on it. For years.

Last May, I finished a new draft. But I wasn’t sure where to submit it for publication. So I sat on it again.

Why the hesitation, the procrastination? Well, you know: perfectionism. Fear of failure. The “not good enough” feeling. I had to get past those obstacles and a few others: concern about what some family members would think. The notion that I need to get paid for this labor of love. The notion that it should go in a “real” publication. The need to find the right photos in an old album, remember how to use my scanner, and put the whole thing together.

And now, finally, here it is: “The Ballad of Frank and Tookie.” Let me know what you think.

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.

 

Q3 and me

Screen Shot 2019-09-29 at 3.28.14 PMIt’s autumn. It’s the autumn of my life, and that cliché is falling upon me like a ton of dead leaves.

On the yearly calendar, it’s the very beginning of autumn. The trees are overwhelmingly green. As I type this, sitting on the deck, I’m wishing I wore shorts instead of jeans. But time moves fast: When I began writing this, our autumn sedum was light pink. Just two days later, it is approaching the deep red it will soon become.

On the calendar of my life, I am deep into the third season. That doesn’t sound right, but I can’t dispute the numbers.

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Back on track

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I’m trying to get to bed earlier. It’s a continual challenge. But it was going well this week — until last night, when I stayed up doing family history research until 3 (!!!!) a.m.

Then I went to bed and dreamed that I was driving along a ridge, across the grass and dirt and rocks, at high speed. I wanted to be on the highway that ran parallel on my right. But I was having a very hard time getting there.

Gee, I wonder what that was about?

I have written frequently about my ongoing efforts to get on track, stay on track, get back on track. I think about it even more frequently — like, pretty much every day.

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The raveled sleeve of care

Two months ago, my mother drew her last, labored breath. I woke up this morning from a brutal, punishing dream with a brutal, punishing headache that hasn’t let up.

And yet, I am writing: scribbling in my journal, typing on my laptop. Writing poems, or bits of them — a dangerous pastime, given that I really don’t know how to write poetry. Everything I’ve written today is about loss, and grief, and fear — mostly fear of loss and grief.

I also fear failure. But in a fit of recklessness — or, let’s call it, freeing myself from perfectionism — I’ve decided to post this one.

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What We Wanted
An alma mater sweatshirt,
ash and rust, scarcely worn:
Dad made his own warmth.

After he died
I took a year to claim it, gingerly,
from the closet of leftovers
nobody wanted.

I wanted.

Once redeemed
it hugged me through four long, bitter
New England winters. Then:
an elbow hole. This spring the hole
blossomed and grew,
leaving more hole
than sleeve.

Sorely worn. But still I wear it.

Now Mom’s closets are empty.
We took what we wanted,
gave away the rest.

A painting, some muu muus.
A raveled sleeve.

Who will redeem this hole?

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked! You can read about it here.

A time to sit

This morning I paced around my house, as I often do, trying to settle into my daily prayers.

Most days I’m distracted by my to-do list and the feeling that I should be getting on with the day. This morning, tired and achy and a little sad and lonely, I could tell that it was a day to take it easy. A day to quiet my mind—the voice pestering me to get things done—and listen to the slow, sad, tired voices of my body and my spirit.

It’s been almost a year since I quit my job and launched this blog to chronicle my journey. Inwardly, it has been a year of exploration and discovery, even revelation. A year of deep valleys but also some peaks, or at least foothills.

Outwardly, though, it looks like a desert year. A year of unemployment (semi-voluntary though it is). A year of illness and long-term treatment that is only beginning to show results. A year of slow progress on this Mary Oliver Challenge, the challenge of learning to be myself and to love what I love.

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