Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna.

Last night six of my best friends and I (the Posse) celebrated my friend Jenna turning fifty. She's the baby, the last to turn fifty. Because this friend group is wildly creative and super nerdy, we decided to write Jenna a special song to the tune of Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." Our version would be "Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna." The song was a total collaboration, each of us weighing in on the content and the rhymes. Kate and Amy, probably the most creative of the group, took the lead on choreography and the musical arrangement.

Since we'd only been able to meet as a group on Zoom, we met an hour before Jenna arrived to rehearse the song and dance a few times in person. Molly, our host, also incredibly creative, had arranged her backyard with seven decorated chairs in a circle, exactly six-feet apart. Jenna's chair was decorated as a throne at the center of it all. It was so great to see everyone. Our normal social interactions have been severely curbed by Coronavirus. Some people I see once every two weeks, some once every six weeks or two months. When we first arrived and started rehearsing there was a lot of energy. With such a short time to fine tune the song and dance we were highly focused and engaged. Even though we all wore masks to practice, the laughter was there. We could all see the twinkles in each other's eyes.

We ate take-out burgers in our chairs and drank canned wine so no one had to cross-pollinate. As we sat in our circle, I found myself feeling awkward, like a teenager at a party with people way cooler than me; a party I wasn't sure I should be at. I felt irritated and there were moments I just wanted to be home, back in my cave. I was aware of how rusty my social skills had become. I couldn't find a groove, an ease. After dinner everyone but Jenna got up to perform our surprise song. Amy turned on the karaoke background music and we all took our places. We did our song, solos and all, and we rocked our dance moves. Jenna loved it. And then we did it again so Jenna could video it on her phone. I felt so happy, so free, so connected. Even at our six-feet-apart spacing for the performance, it actually felt like we were all holding hands or linking arms. I could feel each of them so completely.

At the end of the song we sat back down in our respective chairs and the helium slowly seeped out of my happy balloon. I was back in the awkward. I love these friends so much. They are, as the millennials might say, "everything," but as we sat in our socially distanced circle, I couldn't feel them the way I had when we were singing and dancing. I wanted to feel that energy. When it faded, a melancholy took over and I just wanted to go back to my hibernation.

When I got home at 8:30pm I put my pajamas on. I checked in with my family and curled into bed to read. I felt sad. And happy. My sad came from a longing for those days of leaning into a friend on the couch and talking about something crazy that happened at work or the big hug you give one of your best friends when they turn FIFTY! And happy because I'd had a taste of that goodness, even without leaning or hugging. The singing and dancing, the collective energy that came from creating the song for Jenna and then performing it was such a profound reminder of what it used to feel like to be that connected.

I'm not a super touchy-feely person and I haven't missed hugging as much as a lot of people, but last night activated a visceral reaction. The contrast of the joy I felt one in moment with the longing I felt in the next was intense. I crave connection with these women I love so much. I don't know how long this six-feet apart, don't hug, don't lean, don't touch will last, but I know that even for me it's taking a toll. Dancing and singing and completely nerding out with my posse served as a temporary antidote to the weight of this longing. I'm so grateful for that experience and I'll hold onto the image of that night for a long time. Happy Birthday Jenna.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump the Coyote

There have been a flurry of daytime coyote sitings in my neighborhood. I've seen them at 8am and 2pm, and neighbors have reported them all over the place, at all times of the day. I'm terrified of the coyotes, not for me, but for my little 21-pound dog Freckles who walks almost exclusively off leash. Freckles is small and chubby and slow. He would be an easy target for one of the hungry neighborhood coyotes. I used to be mainly worried about night walks on the dimly lit streets around my house, but these days I'm worried about Freckles at all hours.

The coyotes are wild. They've always been in Seward Park, and neighborhood folks know to be careful with smaller dogs in the forest during certain seasons, but this sidewalk coyote fear is new. It feels directly related to the imminent threat we are living under with an insane president. Despite a serious pandemic, the president, and many local leaders in our country, are advocating for behaviors that are literally killing people. 

The other morning as I walked down to the lake, a coyote crossed in front of me on an arterial to Lake Washington Boulevard. She was sauntering, comfortable in the broad daylight, on a widely human-trafficked sidewalk. I had a moment of fear but then settled when I remembered that Freckles was safe in our house. But that moment of fear, that threat, felt so familiar. I experienced a surge of adrenaline and my heart started pounding. I felt briefly disoriented, not sure what to do with the coyote so close. As I neared the coyote she had made her way across the street and disappeared into the overgrowth in a derelict lot. I continued on my walk and though the coyote was gone my heart was still racing.

That feeling I had with the coyote was like a burst, a momentary amplification of what I've felt every day for months. As I watch Donald Trump misinform people and encourage dangerous behavior, driving our country into destruction, I vacillate from incredulous to petrified. He is like a coyote on the loose, unchecked, sneaky and predatory. Coyotes are said to represent tricksters, but they also represent a revealing of the truth behind illusion and chaos. 

The progression of COVID-19 is the truth behind Trump's trickery and lies. His made-up stories are becoming less and less believable in the face of this pernicious virus. Behind his smoke and mirrors is the truth, that people continue to spread the virus, that people are dying from it. The neighborhood coyote sitings have helped me to make sense of my fear of Donald Trump, to put it into a larger equation. The coyote is a symbol of our times, a symbol of the truth. The fear we feel is real and, if we use it well, it can be our guide to the other side. My fear of the coyote eating Freckles reminds me to keep him close and mind his wanderings. My fear of the virus (and Trump's negligence) keeps me vigilant about wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. 

The coyotes are just doing their job, finding food for themselves and their pups. I am growing used to their presence in my neighborhood. But Trump is a bad coyote, a bad man, who's not doing his job. And I will never get used to him.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Great Slowing

When I was in fourth grade my favorite show was Little House on the Prairie. I thought I looked like Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and I found the Wilder family's life riveting. The level of drama was just my speed-- not too intense or fast-paced. I remember in one episode I learned that after they churned the butter they added a little bit of carrot skin to make it look yellow. For whatever reason that felt important to know. I remember when Laura and Mary would go to the general store owned by Nellie's mother and covet an item their family couldn't afford-- some fabric or a box of stationary. I remember thinking how my friend Danielle Ramelli was just like Nellie. I really loved watching that show.  Life was so simple then.

My life right now, in a way, is simple too.  The outside world is not simple. We have a pandemic, a mentally ill president, and civil unrest. Our country is recalibrating in all kinds of ways, but there is an overwhelming simplicity in my home. Sometimes I feel like I've gone back in time. We cook all of our meals and eat all at home. We entertain ourselves with games and projects, baking and gardening. We don't go far from the "homestead." The difference is that our brains are speeded up from technology. We're slowed down on the outside but still still speeded up on the inside. I wonder what Laura Ingalls Wilder would do with an Instagram account or Netflix. Her family would never have butter.

I'm aware of a conflict within myself-- between the speeded up brain and a slowed down world. I'm comfortably restless, feeling the pull of "supposed tos" while being in the reality of "just being." The Wilder family did what they needed to do. They churned the butter. They built the fire. They grew the food. They sewed the clothes. They didn't have a lot of time for frivolities. Of course we have modernity now. We have people who make our food and package it, supplies and tools to expedite cleaning, people thousands of miles mass producing our clothes. And now many people work from home. But still, there is an absence. An absence of stimulation from the outside world-- movie theaters,  museums, concerts, plays, restaurants, social time at other people's homes, time at school, at the office, yoga studio, dance class, cross-fit gym, cafe, retail stores.

I think of this time as the "Great Slowing."  When I find myself looking towards the future, to a time when we'll have access to all of this external hustle, I realize I don't want it. I dread it. As much as my mind is battling the fast and slow with the walls of my home and my brain, I am more suited for this slow down. I don't really want to eat in a restaurant. I don't even remember what I actually shopped for in retail stores. I never really liked going to concerts. The isolation can be hard, some days more than others, but this homesteading life is like the other Laura's life in the 1880s-- the drama is not too intense or fast-paced for me. There's time to bake bread and contemplate recipes-- think of  something new to cook. There's time to wonder what to do next instead of looking to the calendar to see what was written down three months ago.

I know this won't last,  and I admit that most days I don't want it to last. I want our city, county and world to come back into balance, to find, maybe for the first time in hundreds of years, a semblance of harmony. And that will mean the great re-opening. This will be joyous and wonderful for the world. I know that I'll be happy to go see a dance performance or play. I know I'll be delighted to eat food that someone outside of my home has prepared. It will feel great to go to a rally or protest without worrying about a dangerous virus. I'll welcome it all again, but I want to remember this time too.

A few weeks ago I started writing letters. I chose a handful of people and wrote them each a letter about what my life is like now, asking them to share with me what their life looks like these days. My hope was to memorialize this time, this feeling in some way. The only person who wrote me back was my nine-year-old neighbor. We've written back and forth a few times, talking about our lives, sharing what we do day-to-day. I save all the letters-- her's and mine-- with the hope that these letters will one day be my time capsule of what the "Great Slowing" looked like for me and people in my life.

I'm guessing that Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't think of her life as simple, quiet or slow. She was a pioneer-- doing hard work, figuring shit out that laid the groundwork for where we are right now. But I'm grateful for what she captured, that simple life, what our world looked like before it speeded up to the pace we're at now. I know there's no going back in time and I don't want to. I don't want to go back to that more sexist, racist, homophobic world that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in. But I do want to keep these beautiful slowing down moments alive, to celebrate this moment in history where we can exist a little bit more quietly and simply. That's all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Calmed by the Crowd

Today I went to a protest a few miles from my house. It was my first time going out into a crowd bigger than the line at the grocery store in almost three months but I, along with my partner Nancy and daughter Lucia, felt compelled to go to this rally and march. We put on our masks and headed down to Othello Park, a park I've driven by almost everyday for the last month because it is on the way to the drive-through Starbucks that has become a driving practice destination for Lucia as she prepares to get her permit once the DMV opens up again.

Today Othello Park was filled with thousands of bodies. I would later learn that there were upwards of ten thousand people at this peaceful protest rally and march today. For the first time in months I forgot about COVID-19. For a few hours I was just another body in a sea of bodies (all masked I might add). There was a grace in this crowd, a powerful, strong energy that carried us for miles down Rainier Avenue to the Safeway just south of Henderson. It wasn't until I got home and we sat down to dinner that I realized that I had not seen one police officer in the four hours I was at the rally and march. Ten thousand people marching, chanting, and demanding change, and not one law enforcement officer.

Since the national and international outcry of anger, pain and injustice have taken center stage in our collective consciousness, I've noticed that my level of fear about COVID-19 has decreased. I read the news. I've seen the violence downtown and all over the world. And though the unrest is unsettling,  it is also strangely comforting. In the last few months I have carried with me a constant sense of fear because of the federal level mis-management of COVID-19. I realized yesterday as I sat on the little couch in our kitchen that, for the first time in months, I felt a deep sense of calm. For the first time since the pandemic engulfed our lives, I felt like we were going to be okay.

Right now there is a palpable surge by the people--- a focus, an energy, a ferocity for change has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes. People in my city, country and world, are rising up, clear and bright, illuminated by passion for change. This gives me comfort. It feels like we, the people, the ones who can march 10,000 strong and be totally "managed" without anyone managing us, are actually the ones in control.

I'm surprised by my reaction to this experience. I hate crowds. I fear that they will get out of control and I will be swallowed up. But this was different. The thousands of bodies holding up handmade signs of heartbreak, rage and demands for change, the sea of mouthless faces chanting through the layers of fabric were true and real and good. Donald Trump, holding up his pretend Bible is a sham, a fake, a coward. He's living in a fool's paradise and he's not in control. All the little people that make up the big crowds are in charge. And even if the virus comes at us a little bit harder because of the protests, I have faith that the people can work together against the virus just as the people have come together to protest institutionalized racism and white supremacy all over the world. This comforts me on a deep, visceral level.

I am not a full time activist like my sister or so many people who work tirelessly every day to challenge oppression, but I am a person, one of the ten thousand, the ten million, ten billion that stand together to say, "We've got this." Power to people!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Schooled by Sourdough

I, like millions of other Americans, am part of the great bread baking bonanza that's emerged from the global pandemic of Covid-19. I've always been a baker, but now I'm even more prolific.

Several weeks ago my friend Wolf gifted me some of her sourdough starter. She dropped it off in an 8-ounce ball jar with a taped note of instructions on how to take care of my "Fraulein Maria," the name Wolf had given this gift that would keep on giving.  The first thing I'd need to do was to feed Fraulein Maria. I moved her to a bigger jar and give her one cup of flour and a half cup of water. Then I stirred her, put a lid on like a tilted beret to give her some air, and went to sleep for the night.

The next morning I could see that Fraulein Maria had had a busy night. She was at least two inches taller in her glass jar and her nocturnal expansion was clearly an invitation to bake some bread. I made two delicious loaves of sourdough bread which took several risings, kneadings, and overnight in the fridge for a total of about sixteen hours from start to finish. But the bread was delicious and I was thrilled to eat and serve bread that had its own family lineage. I continued to feed Fraulein Maria, noticing my increasing obligation to find ways to engage her. I made delightful crispy crackers with olive oil and rosemary (like seven times). I baked several more loaves. I put her in hibernation in the fridge for a week just to get a break from thinking about her.  Then I felt guilty and I took her out again. I placed her on the counter next to a Christmas cactus and a tin of flour and I fed her every night. Last week I woke up to an exploding jar. Fraulein Maria's little green beret was lifting right off her head. That day I made four loaves of bread and two batches of olive oil crackers. It was exhausting and fattening and I realized that I might be done with Fraulein Maria. I might have to kill her.

But I couldn't, and I still can't. In searching my soul about why I simply cannot release Fraulein Maria to the disposal or the compost bin, I can see that this is my pattern. Once I become attached I have a hard time letting go. In the course of my life I've had so many relationships that seem to reach their natural end point and I struggle to hold on. Starting in seventh grade when I moved to a new school, I still clung to my best friend Meredith from my old school. It's continued on like that for years, clutching people, fearing the loss even if the actual relationship wasn't working. For me, letting go, saying goodbye, is a sign of failure. If I let go I've failed at the friendship, the relationship, the job, the sourdough.

Maybe Fraulein Maria is here to teach me something. What is her lesson to me?  I might just start ignoring Fraulein Maria. I'll passively notice her drying out in the jar until she's created a hardened coat of beige paint on her inside walls. Or, one afternoon before feeding I'll impulsively induce euthanasia by running hot water into her vessel until there's just a film that I scrub out with the brillo pad. Either way, I will have to live with the feelings of letting her go, of failing Fraulein Maria. But I'll be okay. I've been there before. I've lost friends,  had break-ups, left jobs, and I've gotten over it. The sense of failure goes away eventually. And seeing clearly now how ridiculous my obligation to the sourdough starter is, I have new clarity about my clinging tendencies with humans. That historic feeling of being a failure because I choose to let go of someone or something is a bunch of bullshit. Sometimes we just need to move on. It's how life works.  I'm not ready to let go of Fraulein Maria yet, but soon, very soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Be like the Beavers

Last night in my writing class, all of the participants wrote about nature in some way-- about being in the forest or being a butterfly or comparing themselves to a seed in the earth. For each of them, there was an element of finding themselves in nature. As I listened to them read, I could sense a feeling of peace as they each recalled their experience of being in the beauty and simplicity of the natural world. It was so serendipitous and magical. I myself had been working on clarifying, through writing, my own recent experience being in nature the day before.

On Monday I was walking along Lake Washington at about 6:00am. Every Monday morning I offer an online guided meditation, and that day my plan was to focus on the inner resource, the internal respite we can train ourselves to connect with in times of stress, struggle and dis-ease. The lake was still and there were just a few boats quietly anchored in Andrew's Bay. The air felt just the right amount of cool and there were only a handful of walkers and runners at that hour. It's my favorite time of day. Thinking about the meditation I would lead in a few hours time, I was contemplating what my own inner resource looks like these days. In that exact moment, I noticed two little beaver heads slithering across the surface of the still water. They were close in, maybe four feet from the shore. I stopped to watch them for a moment, but as soon as they sensed me, they dove under the water, safe from my towering presence on the shore.

"That's their inner resource," I thought to myself, "they have such an immediate, uncomplicated response to a potential threat. They know how to find safety and security right away." They just dive down into the deeper water, safe from the predator on the shore. I imagined their slithering bodies gliding down, down, down into safer waters and emerging further away from the shore, away from my curious stare. In that moment I wished it could be that easy for me-- to dive under the blankets of my bed or hide in my closet-- to elicit a sense of safety and well-being when I feel overwhelmed by commitments or filled with shame for some stupid social faux pas. 

But we humans are complex, maybe too complex for our own good. Even when there is no imminent physical threat, our advanced brain structure makes it hard to calm the mind. While the body may be safe and protected physically, too often the mind is on its own journey of memories and experiences that seem to have very little to do with the moment at hand. 

When we are infants things are different. In infancy we are more like the beavers. In those early days, we respond reflexively, from our reptilian brains. Then, as we grow, experiencing and internalizing different life events, we move away from those innate impulses and become overloaded with response possibilities. We essentially bury our intuition, that innate knowing. Instead of diving into clear water, it can feel like we're mucking through the milfoil, unsure of when our feet will find the sandy bottom of the lake again.

My teacher Astrid says that our intuition, our deepest, perhaps most innate knowing emerges when we can get everything else to quiet down. She says that intuition is patient and it will wait for stillness before it shows up. I imagine it like the calm after a storm where the light is clear; the air strangely soft and electric at the same time. This moment when we just know our truth. This wisdom about intuition has been an important and enduring lesson for me; it is one of the reasons those early morning walks in nature have become a vital part of my day, and really of my life. 

Being in nature is restorative. On the most basic level, it makes us feel good. The very oxygen we take in when we walk in the forest is healing and rejuvenating. But it's more than that. Being in the simplicity of nature is a clear reminder to our overly complex psyches that things don't have to be so complicated. It helps reconnect us with quiet, with a stillness that invites in this inner peace, the one that is so obvious to the beavers in the lake. 

We all started from that effortless place, that baby place where we are simple-- we eat, drink, sleep, suck, pee and poo. And we've become these complex, multi-faceted, constantly processing organisms that get lost in the muck and the milfoil. There's a lot of stress these days, a jigsaw puzzle of ways to worry and despair. Sometimes we can't physically get to a forest or a lake, but we can sit quietly, look up at the sky, close our eyes, listen for the birds. Or we can go within, to a memory or an image. We can get quiet, take a breath, and listen.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The opposite of a Grateful Dead Concert

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am an introvert. After years of running a business, being a relatively public figure, I am happily settled into this new role of being a talking head behind a tiny screen to just a handful of people. It suits me. They say that extroverts become energized from being around people and introverts get energy from being alone. It only took me fifty years, but now that I've been in this required solitude for over two months I can see clearly that I am an introvert. I do miss people, but I am also quite content, actually energized, by this aloneness.

When my twin sister and I graduated from high school in Chicago, we went to different universities in different states. I went south to Missouri and she went east to Indiana. This geographical parting was an opportunity for us to define our independent identities for the first time in our lives. Having mostly ridden on the coattails of Katherine's social ingenuity and popularity, I realized when I got to college that my shyness would be hard to manage without my twin sister as a crutch.

Without my social liaison I felt eternally awkward; I assumed that there was something wrong with me, that maybe I was missing a part. I was like a deer in headlights, constantly trying to figure out how to engage. I struggled socially and threw myself into the academics of college. I made the most of the social expectations and eventually learned to fake it a little bit, to play the part of extrovert. I found a group of friends. I went to parties. I did the college scene. But my favorite part was always the end of the party, when I could go home. Katherine, on the other hand, seemed to roll right into an extension of her high school celebrity status-- wildly fun and popular, the life of the party. During our freshman year in college, Katherine started following the Grateful Dead. She loved the scene and traveled all over the country with different friends to spend weekends in the mosh pit of free love.

The summer between our freshman and sophomore years of college I went to one Grateful Dead concert in Wisconsin with Katherine and some of our friends. We camped for two nights and spent the long, humid days steeped in the fog of pot smoke and patchouli. I hated it. It was like all the expectations of college on crack. And ecstasy. And speed. My senses were overloaded and I had the immediate desire to hide in the tent. I felt lost in the love fest. I spent the whole two days in a raging battle of my inner judges- judging everyone around me for being who they were, then turning the gavel onto myself and criticizing my own uptightness, my inability to just let go and be happy.

The abundance of contact and community and interaction at the Grateful Dead show was too much for me-- too much humanity; too much chaos. Though people were kind and loving, making and sharing food, giving out miracles, selling their bizarre and amazing creations, swaying with joy in their colorful, feathered, flowing frocks, I couldn't find a way to be in it. I was exhausted by it. I just wanted to go home.

And now, thirty years after that Grateful Dead concert, I am home. Literally and figuratively, I am home. I loved my life before, but as I look back, there were long periods where I simply endured, white-knuckled it and faked it really well, made the most of it until I could get back home and recharge. I wouldn't trade any of the past, and there are certainly days right now when I wish I could open up my world a little bit.  But mostly, I'm relieved to be home, in my element, living in the opposite of a Grateful Dead concert.

Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna.

Last night six of my best friends and I ( the Posse ) celebrated my friend Jenna turning fifty. She's the baby, the last to turn fifty...