Friday, April 3, 2020

From my hands to your face!

I feel so much different today than I did last Friday. My heart feels lighter.  My mind feels calmer. Amazingly, I feel like the world is going to be okay. Last week I came across a group on Facebook that was making masks for the frontline workers. I have a sewing machine, I can sew, and at the moment I saw the post I was desperate for something to make me feel better. So I signed up. On Monday afternoon a large ziplock bag with a stack of fabric squares and a few yards of elastic was dropped on my porch. There was a note on the front with clear instructions "Quarantine bag for twelve hours." So I put it aside for the rest of the day and night and began sewing Wednesday morning. It took me a few tries to get my flow-- the elastic attachment and the pleating was more difficult than I thought it would be-- but eventually I got the hang of it and produced 22 imperfect masks by Thursday morning.

I put the completed masks in their original ziplock bag and drove them to the Southend coordinator's house where I dropped them into a large blue plastic bin in her carport. I imagined the coordinator was in her house, maybe she could see me walking down her driveway, but of course she couldn't come the get the masks from me. It didn't matter. I had a surge of delight as I dropped my completed masks into the pile of other ziplock bags with completed masks. It was a little community of masks nested in the blue bin, waiting to be delivered to a hospital in Seattle or Renton or Kirkland. I haven't felt that kind of joy in a long time. The closest I've come is to hear my daughter playing piano and singing out loud. That gets me every time.

The delight I felt making the masks was so healing. I offered to make more masks-- for my neighbors and friends, for family members across the country. Once I started my personal batch I quickly ran out of fabric so I asked my posse (see blog With Friends Like These) if they had any extra. Within two hours my friend Jenna was collecting swatches from her home and from Molly and Judy. Jenna had left over Little Mermaid fabric from one of her daughter's birthday parties ten years ago. Molly had tie-dyed sheets from her fiftieth birthday party in Montana last summer and Judy cut up a beautiful old tablecloth. It was amazing. I had ample fabric to keep me busy (and happy). I stayed up late into the night with a glass of wine and my sewing table, sewing mask after mask. One night Nancy came in with the laptop. We turned on Ozark Season 2 and she helped me do the finish work.

I packaged up masks for family in Ohio, New York, Indiana and Chicago and have a growing list of deliveries to make. I'm at 47 masks and counting. I can barely wait to get back into the basement and start sewing again. I've asked myself why this simple act brings me so much joy. I think it goes back to the visceral feeling I had when I dropped the masks into the blue plastic bin in the carport. Those masks will go to people who need them. They will wear them and maybe they will keep them safe, or at least make them feel like people out in the world love and care about them. And for my friends and family-- I can't travel to see them. I can't get within six feet of my friends and neighbors here, but I can sew. I can connect with them that way. From my hands to your face! But in a good way. Making masks gives me a tangible connection to the world and to the people I love. Now it's back to the basement!

Monday, March 30, 2020

I Can Make You a Mask but.....

Today I made homemade masks. I was practicing sewing them, in part, because I committed to making twenty-five for the hospitals by Thursday and, in part because I thrive on being prepared. At the moment when it is recommended that we all wear masks, I will be ready. My family and all my friends will be ready because I will make masks for them all.

I haven't left my neighborhood in three weeks and I admit that I'm getting a little bit reclusive. Sometimes I fantasize about living this way forever. Today I made myself go to the grocery store. I had to see that I could still venture out. I have heard and read different theories about the ineffectiveness of masks with regard to contracting Coronavirus, but on this maiden voyage out of my neighborhood, wearing a mask made me feel safer and more protected. Protect comes from the Latin- protegere and means "covered in front." Pro=in front. Tegere= to cover. It's strange, to wear a mask to protect yourself (and others) because it essentially erases your facial expressions. People looking at you can't tell if you are smiling of scowling. It's social distancing on steroids. I am an incredibly expressive person. My face is always moving (you can tell by all the lines) and when I wore the mask I did not feel like myself at all. I felt like I was emotionally muzzled.

To make my masks, I used leftover scrap fabric that I had in my basement so the first batch of masks are multi-colored and polka-dotted. Before I left to the grocery I said to my partner Nancy, "I don't think I can wear this mask in public." This is a hilarious statement considering I haven't worn pants without elastic for close to month. Nancy looked at me in a way that I understood meant, "This is not the time to be concerned about what you are wearing." I got the point but still, when I was in the parking lot of the Red Apple I could see inside the store that only a few people had masks on and they were simple white hospital masks, not finger-paints-on-acid masks. In the end, I swallowed my fashion pride and put on my mask.

Wearing the mask felt beyond weird. It wasn't just that I was "that person"-- the overly cautious, super-paranoid person who makes her own Coronavirus mask. It was weird because I didn't feel like myself. I couldn't be myself. I felt like I was eliciting strange reactions from others in the grocery store too. I got curious looks and several people switched directions in the aisle when they were coming towards me. I was self-conscious about my grocery cart. Were people judging me for buying six cans of salsa? I couldn't say to them, "I love this salsa and they don't sell it at the grocery store in my neighborhood so I always buy a lot when I'm up here." I was like a character out of Body Snatchers, robotically going through my shopping in the midst of all these other people doing the same thing-- only they were the normal ones. I couldn't smile, silently reassuring people that I am just like them. I am a friendly, kind person and I love this salsa.


When I finally checked out, the clerk was really friendly, almost overly friendly. I wondered if he felt sorry for me, the weirdo in the crazy mask. He looked into my eyes and asked me if I'd found everything I needed. His kindness encouraged me to speak back to him. When I was shopping I spent forever trying to find yeast but was too embarrassed to ask anyone. At the checkout I pushed through my discomfort and asked the clerk  if the packaging on their bulk quick start yeast was different from usual.

The experience made me appreciate the importance of non-verbal communication; I've read that fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal. At the grocery store today without my facial expressions,  I felt trapped in my own body, covered in front, unable to connect with my fellow shoppers. Without my smile and the other expressions I use to communicate, I was rendered voiceless, powerless to ask for help or say hello to people. I am guessing that not too far in the future more people, maybe most people will be wearing masks for a little while. And I'm sure we'll adapt. We'll find ways to read each other's eyes and we'll get more confident speaking through our masks. We'll make it work, but I really hope we don't have to do it for long.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Boy in the Iron Maiden Jacket


On Friday I took a walk to Seward Park. I was listening to a podcast. It was either the new Esther Perel interview with the quarantined couple in Sicily or the introduction to the Brene Brown podcast, also focusing on Coronavirus. The entire walk had taken longer than usual because I (and everyone else in the park) had to weave across the path like a game of Frogger to maintain the six feet of safe separation. Towards the end of the Seward Park loop I saw a boy kneeling beside his bike. He was little, maybe eight or nine-years-old. Beneath his helmet he had chlorine bleached shoulder-length hair. He was wearing a little jean jacket with an Iron Maiden logo on the back and big black gym shoes. He'd turned his bike over so the handle bars and seat were on the pavement and the wheels were facing up. As I weaved away from him, he stood up and jogged toward me, saying, with rounded Rs,  "S'quse me. Can I bowwow youw phone?" I immediately panicked. Why was he coming towards me? We were supposed to be backing away from each other. All. The. Time. I took my earbuds out and put my hand up in a stop gesture and said, "Why don't you give me a number and I'll call it for you." And then he nodded, as if remembering the world beyond his broken bike. "Oh, of couwse, yes" he said.

So, standing six feet away from each other he told me to try writing to a gmail account. He wasn't sure of his mom's gmail address but threw out a few ideas. Oh geez, I thought to myself. This poor kid might never reach his mom this way. "Let me look at your bike," I said. "You stand over there and I will see what I can do." His chain had fallen off and it was an easy fix so I put it back on. The feeling of being able to fix his bike had momentarily put me back in the time when it was okay to be close to a stranger. I called him closer and said, "Let me show you how to fix your chain so if it falls off again you'll know how to put it back on yourself." He kneeled beside me and I showed him. Then he turned his bike over and got on. "It wowks!" he said. And riding away, shouted, "Byyyyyyeeee. Thanks"

I watched him ride away, laughing to myself at the hilarity of a nine-year-old sporting an Iron Maiden jean jacket and then I looked at my bike-grease covered hands and came back to reality. "Oh fuck" I thought. "I'm contaminated." I walked the mile back to my house with my hands hanging awkwardly by my sides trying to will the invasive contaminants off of my skin. When I got home the front door was locked so I had to go through the garage, pushing the key pad to get in and then go through another door to the house. My grease-stained, contaminated hands had now touched two door knobs and a key pad. I made a mental note to bleach clean those as I raced to the kitchen to wash my hands thoroughly.

If that little boy had asked for my help in February I wouldn't have noted anything significant about it. I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought beyond his Iron Maiden jean jacket. But the experience that day was significant from beginning to end. Everything about it was precious and important and devastating for me. How quickly I have moved away from my old normal, that a nine-year-old boy with a broken bike evoked fear in me. And how nourishing that simple experience throwing caution to the wind had been.  Since that time I have carried a lingering sadness for this distance we are living in-- for myself, for the kids, for the babies, for the elderly, for all of us. My sadness is that, without these experiences where we can approach people and be approached, we will lose that ability. For me I adapted so quickly to wearing this fear coat of armor. That scared me. But I find hope in the fact that, when it really mattered, when I recognized that the little boy needed my help, I had the ability to take off my armor and do the right thing.

Friday, March 27, 2020

On being a mother

One of my greatest joys, accomplishments, frustrations, challenges, teachers, is being a mother. In Seattle, we are over a month into this world crisis of Coronavirus and living in one of the epicenters of the disaster. This social isolation and complete overhaul of a daily life schedule and future plans is hard on me, but I worry more about how all of this will affect my daughter.

She seems fine. She says that if she doesn't talk about it, doesn't think about it, she'll be okay. We've been doing an after dinner ten-minute writing practice and she says she doesn't want to write about anything related to Corona because it will make her too upset. Last night at ten-thirty Lucia said good night and went to her room. Our agreement is that she puts her phone on the docking station in the kitchen at 10:30pm Monday-Friday and 11:30pm on weekends. This is already an hour later than normal because I'm trying to be lenient and balance out in-home restrictions with the oppressive the shelter-in-place conditions we are living in.

At 11:00pm I am generally fast asleep but last night I was restless. I couldn't sleep. I finished my book and couldn't get my mojo up to start another. So I got up and went down to the kitchen and saw Lucia's phone wasn't there. I went to her room where her light was on and she was sitting on her bed with a notebook. "Lucia, why isn't your phone in the kitchen?" I asked. "I'm sorry Mom. I wanted to call someone" she said unplugging her phone from the wall and handing it to me.  I brought it upstairs and put it my bathroom. Now I was really jacked up on emotional adrenaline. I went on my computer for a bit and then I went back to Lucia's room.

"Lucia," I said, sitting on her bed, "What is going on? What do you need?"
"I don't know," she answered, tiny tears trying to free themselves from her hazel eyes.

My heart broke a little bit. It was as if all of my anxiety, fear, and struggle to find a foothold in the unknown, was wrapped up into that tiny "I don't know." What is my job right now? I asked myself. How do I serve her? How do I create a landing pad for this grief and confusion and anger and pain?

I climbed under the covers and put my head on a pillow with my face and body towards her's. She told me how she's scared to really get sad because she feels like she'll fall down a hole and not be able to climb back out. She told me how she's okay and she gets support from her friends. She asked me questions about when I am really myself. She wondered aloud if she's like me at times, not really herself. She told me it wasn't my job to fix this. And that's when I lost it. I can't fix this. I can't fix this. I can't fix this. I can't make her pain go away. I can't make Donald Trump not be a raging lunatic and greedy motherfucker. I can't rub Lucia's back to make everything okay like when she was a toddler.

I have to throw everything I know out the window and settle into this moment, this reality, this life right now. It looks different than it ever has and I don't know where we'll go in the weeks and months ahead. I don't know how this will end. But I want to do something. What do I do? I can feel the tightness gripping in my chest as I try to forge a plan, create a list for how I'll make this better. But the more I do this the tighter my chest gets. I close my eyes. I feel the tears. My chest softens a little bit and I know that all I can do for my child right now is to open my heart, step into my own vulnerability, and share her pain.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

With friends like these.....

I've resolved to try to write one blog a day during this period of time where were are sheltered in place. Maybe it will be two weeks. Maybe two months, maybe longer.

For as long as I can remember, writing has been a comfort to me. It comes naturally, and when I am doing it, I feel free. Writing and taking long solitary walks are two things that help me feel in touch with my inner musings while also being connected to the outside world. 

This blog has been an important portal for me over the years, a place where I can connect with the outside world in my own weird, semi-introverted way. Connecting without getting too close, some might say. These days writing, and this blog in particular have become even more important. Each morning I do a free write and that almost always opens me up to some clear channel of information that I wasn't aware of. Then I rewrite and restructure that material into a blog. 

Sometimes I'll have an experience with my family or a friend or a stranger that sparks a thought and that will be the subject of my blog. Those are my favorite moments. It's as if the blog writes itself for me in that moment and when I get to my desk later that day or week it just flows out. This happened last week when I was trying to have a Zoom happy hour with my besties, "the posse" as we call ourselves. There are seven of us. We all have teenagers and live within four miles of each other. We try make time for a weekend or two away together every year. We set up times to have a drink once a month. We support each other through an ongoing text thread on a daily basis. I miss my girls. A lot.

So last week when we planned a Saturday night Zoom call at 6:15pm, each with our own refreshment ranging from Kombucha to Tumeric tea to Cabarnet Franc to THC, we were overjoyed to all be "together." But it was a shit show. We had persistent technical problems. We constantly interrupted each other.  We couldn't all figure out how to set up our screen views or muting tools or chat functions. We had family distractions in the background. We tried to connect for maybe fifteen minutes and then, suddenly the call was over. Our host, who had spent the whole time muted because when she talked it provided robotic, horrible feedback, just ended the meeting. Blip. Just like that, our happy hour was over. We were back in our little houses, sheltered in place.

Connection is harder right now. And though I am grateful for how technology is serving us during this time, connecting is not the same. An in person happy hour with the posse would never look like that. There would be a slow trickle of hellos with some time to catch up in pairs of twos and threes. And, at the end of the night there would be staggered goodbyes, a few of us without morning responsibilities hanging out later than the others. And of course we would all hug hello and goodbye. 

But I'll take it. I'll take the computer version of happy hour with the posse and I'll take the computer version of therapy and yoga and all the other things I do on this laptop. And just like I've connected from this blog for all these years,  I'm finding new and different ways to connect right now. Frustrating as they may be at times, I'm grateful for them all.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Who's in charge?

A decade ago I was floundering. I was in the middle of a crumbling relationship, on the verge of leaving my thirties, and entering a financial recession with my small business. I felt a longing for someone to be in charge. It was at that time in my life that I started, in earnest, to look for wisdom teachers who could help guide me on my life path.

I think my first teacher at that time was Isabel Allende. One night I heard her on the radio talking about her Prayer Circle, a group of women who she came together with once a month to witness and honor each other's experiences. That very night that I heard Isabel Allende on the radio, I started my own prayer circle which I stayed with for more than eight years. I've had other teachers since then-- my teacher Astrid, various yoga teachers, and different healing professionals who have become teachers and mentors to me over the years.

Right now I am in need of guidance; I want to feel like someone is in charge of this whole mess. I find myself longing for someone to tell me that everything will be okay, and then I realize that there may not be a teacher who can tell me that right now. This world crisis might be too big for any one teacher. While I still look to my teachers and am very grateful for their encouragement and guidance in my life, I feel myself seeking something even beyond these wise teachers right now. 

As I look at the billions of people affected by this world virus, I am supremely aware of how profoundly, in this moment, we are undeniably connected. We are all one. In every corner of the world we are each as vulnerable as our neighbors in all directions. This virus speaks no language, favors no country, spares no religion. I see clearly that we are all in this together, connected by an unstoppable force. Seeing this, I am compelled to acknowledge the presence of something bigger, something far beyond any of us. I can feel my faith in the universal connection and consciousness deepening. And though watching the devastation that comes from this virus is painful and scary, it reinforces a belief that ultimately gives me comfort. It's taken this world crisis for my faith to grow stronger. 

Before this crisis we were living an unsustainable reality. We were (and still are) on the verge of environmental collapse. The economic disparity gap grows larger every day. Our ability to look at people in the eye and be in the moment has been diluted with every new technological innovation aimed at greater efficiency. And now we are here, at a full stop from before, waiting for the time when this will be over.  We are in a limbo of sorts, this in between, keenly aware of the life we lived just weeks ago and the precarious nature of getting to the other side of this. I do have faith that there will be an after, but for right now we are very clearly in this limbo space between. This space between is hard. It is difficult to breathe, sometimes impossible to see beyond the fear of the daily news briefing, but in tiny moments I know that there will indeed be an after.

This belief that there is going to be an after is how I can feel my faith showing up. I have faith that there is something greater guiding our planet and our humanity. The after will be different. Yes, there will continue to be environmental destruction and economic inequality and social-emotional unconsciousness, but there will be something else too. We will all have lived in this in between time together and we will each be forever changed by this experience.  

I miss my life before. I miss the security (albeit false) that tomorrow would be business as usual. I am struggling. I feel like I am constantly trying to take a deep breath.  A friend said the other day that right now it's like Mother Earth has sent us to our rooms for misbehaving. I totally buy that; it's like we're being grounded for not listening to the repeated warnings in the before.  So now we have to stay in our rooms and think about our actions, about what we've done, and how we'll behave differently when we get the chance. And I have faith that we will have that chance to do better, that there is a greater good, a universal force connecting and guiding us that, at least for me, is undeniable. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

What our hands might be telling us.

One of my coping mechanisms in life, but especially during the last few weeks has been walking. I take several walks a day and I am grateful for the extended daylight so I can walk even earlier in the morning and later into the evenings. There's something about being outside, seeing the trees and the lake and the birds and the humans that gives me a sense of peace. We're still here. We're still the same really, though the birds seem happier. I think it's because there are fewer airplanes disturbing their space.

I've noticed lately that when I am walking, when I feel overwhelmed but also when I feel a sense of grace, that my hands go into prayer position (Pranam Mudra). The joining of the hands in Pranam Mudra is said to create a closed circuit whereby both sides of the brain are stimulated and balanced. It's a visceral response to my heart feeling a certain way--- either gripping with anguish and fear or soft and open from gratitude. It's funny but also logical that those two opposites elicit the same hand gesture.

I am a physical person. I've been doing yoga for more than twenty-five years and teaching for almost twenty. It's in my body, this movement of bringing my hands into prayer position. The very act gives me a sense of okay-ness, like touching back into a very deep, often buried insight that I am going to be okay. I believe this is an old knowing, one I was born with, one we are all born with. For me, this Pranam Mudra takes me back there, to a far away yet deeply familiar place.

My involuntary Pranam Mudra reminds of a my friend Sonja. When we were in India together a few years ago, we would often walk a sacred path together, sometimes talking and sometimes in silence. At the end of several days of walking the path several times a day, Sonja noticed that her hands had been making their way into the Hakini Mudra where all five fingertips touch one another. Upon noticing this pattern Sonja looked up the meaning of this mudra and learned that doing the Hakini Mudra helps boost thinking and concentration. At that time Sonja was trying to come to clarity about a big professional life transition. For Sonja,  the repetition of the Hakini Mudra showing up in her body made perfect sense.

And so too does this persistent and repeating Pranam Mudra make sense for me. In this extended moment of time in my life, I am, at the same time, filled with both unrelenting fear and profound gratitude. And as I walk my path every day, my body and my brain are trying to make sense of these opposite extremes, my two palms coming together to create balance. 

From my hands to your face!

I feel so much different today than I did last Friday. My heart feels lighter.  My mind feels calmer. Amazingly, I feel like the world is go...