Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Treasures in Your Baggage


You know when you go on a trip and buy a special souvenir? Like a tiny ceramic vase or a silk scarf? Maybe a special bottle of olive oil or a beautiful antique sterling tray from a flea market? You know how, when it's time to pack, sometimes you have to leave something at the hotel? Maybe a sweater that you never really wear or a pair of shoes that it turns out just aren't that comfortable? It's often an impulsive decision, a rushed moment where you have to zip your suitcase and everything simply won't fit. When you get home you rarely miss the sweater or the shoes. You get joy from looking at the little vase on the bathroom shelf or wearing the new scarf. These new items bring memories of your journey and you are glad you brought them home with you.

In a few years' time, you might put the vase or the scarf into the Goodwill pile. The olive oil either went bad or it is all used up. You regifted the antique tray to a friend who had a birthday and you forgot to get them a gift. Those special items have served their role and now they can move along. 

When we make that decision to leave our old sweater or shoes in the hotel in Belize and take home the vase or the scarf, we are deciding to let go of the old and bring in the new. And we do this time and time again with each year that passes. Change is the one true constant in our lives. 

The New Year is a conscious opportunity to look inside our baggage. New Year's Day feels cliche, and to many, it is an annoying and stress-filled day. The pressure to know what to commit to, to declare as a resolution, feels contrived. But really we aren't coming up with anything new. The resolutions, the commitments, are already here. The New Year is simply a chance to look into the suitcase and see what we've acquired in our travels in the year passed and decide what we want to keep. It's an acknowledgment of what we've learned on our journey.  And then, just like making the hard decision on your trip to Belize, in the same way, you'll note what hasn't really been useful and leave that stuff at the hotel. 

I am a constant seeker of souvenirs. I am forever hunting for treasures that will symbolize where I've been. This year, in my travels through the Pandemic, I added more writing, a love affair with the Peleton, and a daily dip in Lake Washington to my suitcase. I love those treasures and I want to keep them. I'm not practicing yoga every day like I used to, just once or twice a week. And I'm not baking as much as I did in the past. There's simply not enough space in the bag for all of it. 

But as we come to a new year I spend some time deliberately thinking about the things I've added to my baggage. These are my chosen souvenirs from 2020, the treasures in my baggage, the precious items I am excited about that remind me of the journey I'm coming home from. These new souvenirs are the things I choose to keep. Next year will be different. Maybe yoga will start to come back, or baking. 

2021 is a new adventure, an opportunity to collect souvenirs as we go. As we move through the next year, instead of holding on tight to each new resolution, just be aware of it in your life. Does it serve you? Are you using it often? And be an explorer in this new year. What feels good? What is interesting or invigorating? Collect the souvenirs as they come and at the end of the year, you can look into your suitcase again and decide what to keep and what to leave behind. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

On Being a Twin

Being a twin is one of my two-truths-and-one-lie tricks. If we didn't grow up together or we're not close friends now, you'd never know that I'm a twin. It's always a surprise to people when I say, "I have a twin." To parents on the street pushing twins, I always stop and admire the babies and, at some point declare, "I'm a twin," noting my belonging to this special club that fewer than four percent of humans inhabit. Being a twin is an experience only twins can understand. My twin sister Katherine and I used to laugh and call ourselves "wombmates." From our conception, we were never alone. We were always a part of one another, completing one whole. Though we occupied different physical bodies, we existed in reference to each other.

One of my regular practices is Yoga Nidra. As part of this practice, we contemplate opposites. This mental shift, from one sensation, feeling, or thought to its opposite, opens up a greater expanse of awareness. Not only are we able to move from a potentially entrenched experience to it's opposite, but we open ourselves up to all of the experiences in between and beyond those two opposites.

In all of my years of writing about my emotional musings, I have only touched on my experience of being a twin, but in reality, it is one of the foundational pieces of my identity. It occurred to me the other morning as I was meditating, that for me, growing up as a twin was like being one of the opposites. When I was young, I was very shy. My twin sister Katherine was incredibly outgoing. I was an athlete, a swimmer, one of the quietest, most independent of sports. Katherine was a thespian- a drama star at our little high school. I was awkward socially and she was gifted, popular with all of the cliques. I am grateful that she forever let me tag along to receive little sprinklings of her social magic. I would never have been comfortable going to parties, concerts, and school events without Katherine. She was my confidence and my guide in this realm that I had never had to develop on my own.
We were like two halves of a whole, two pieces of a puzzle, Yin and Yang. Katherine was the lighthearted, funny one and I was the serious, worrying one. As an adult looking back now and knowing more about child development and family systems, I understand that we were perhaps guided into those roles to complete a larger family picture. As I watch my daughter, an only child, navigate through her world, one part, one whole, I can see how different it might have been to grow up not being a twin.

In Yoga Nidra, we try to see the preferences we have and to soften our grip on those preferences. I prefer to feel happy and playful, but fully welcoming the experience of sadness and despair helps me understand that, without those emotions, there would be no happy and playful. Without one, there is no other. Ultimately, preferring one emotion over another does not serve us because we need all of the emotions to feel any of them. Seeing opposites enables us not only to release our preferences for one or the other but helps us to see all of the other stops along the way.

For many years, I felt like the unpreferred twin. I was stuck in my role of the serious twin, the rigid, uptight one. And Katherine was locked into her role as the life of the party, always being happy and light. We both felt pressure to keep our half of the circle intact. We first separated in college. I went south and she went east. It was a micro-separation and we remained very close. At first, the space away from Katherine was painful. I didn't understand how to access the pieces of myself that Katherine had occupied growing up. I felt like an imposter--being social, taking up space in that way, trying on the role of playful and fun.

After we both graduated from college we moved west together, forging a new path together, falling very much into the same roles we occupied in high school. This lasted for a few years and then we began to move apart again, this time in a bigger way than we had in college. First, we moved to different apartments and then to separate states, and eventually very far apart emotionally, almost alienated from one another. In hindsight, I think the alienation from the other was a subconscious distance Katherine and I created so that each of us could step lightly into the realm of "other."

Those were hard years. It felt unnatural to be so distant from the person I thought I needed to complete me. I wasn't yet comfortable occupying space that used to be hers. But as we stayed separate, it got easier. Our former opposite selves became neutral-- neither good nor bad, neither mine nor hers. In getting enough distance from our former identities of two parts of one whole, we could see that we no longer needed to dwell in our formerly-defined parts. In the physical and emotional distance we created, we were able to see and feel our whole selves. And we were able to finally see each other.

I still feel out of place at times. Making new friends is hard for me and I'm still socially awkward. My default is still rigid and uptight. I know for Katherine too, it has been a long, complicated journey to move away from the expectations of who she was when we made up two parts of a whole to the person she is now. It's a neverending road, this path to wholeness. Contemplating how we limit ourselves, our possibilities, our preferences for ways of being, is painful but important. For me, having the perspective of a twin is a clear way to look back and see how I limited myself because I thought I couldn't be like my twin. I could only define myself in a way that made sense to complete our puzzle.

I am still serious and I still worry (a lot). Katherine is still funny as hell and is often still the entertainer. But we're both greatly changed, expanded. We've learned to dip our toes, and sometimes our whole bodies into what once was our opposite, our twin's role. I am far more social now than Katherine. And she is much more serious than I ever was. To look back and see our journeys is to understand the importance of welcoming everything, opening up and making room for all the pieces that make each of us whole.

For me, having the clear reference point of being a twin allows me to see how easy it is to get stuck in a role, to limit myself to one way of being. In looking back over my own history, I can see how slowly moving away from the tight twin circle I used to inhabit has helped me to become a whole of my own. Like a meteor breaking apart in space, the fireballs and sparks that come from the explosion light up the universe with possibilities. In breaking apart, we become complete in a new incarnation of wholeness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Everyday Gratitude

Feed Freckles, make my coffee, write a little bit, jump in the lake, go in the hot tub, make my oatmeal, start the day. My day starts early, somewhere between 530-6 am. I love the early morning when the black sky slowly lightens and the outline of the trees and power lines and houses around me become visible. On lucky days, the sky might eventually brighten to a swirl of orange or pink or purple. 

I love tiptoeing across the dining room floor so I don't wake Lucia below me. I love turning on the coffee pot that I prepared the night before, opening the fridge to get the milk, and steam it in the frother as I prepare Freckle's food. I love the moment when he gets his first mouthful of food and I get my first sip of hot coffee. 

I love lighting my candle, sitting down at the dining room table, and writing the thoughts that visited me as I slept. I love the moment when I close my notebook, grab my towel and robe to meet Genessa for our daily jump in the frigid lake. I love the short conversations we have to and from the lake. I love when we have time to jump in the hot tub for a few minutes to warm our freezing hands and feet. I love the tingling feeling that comes as my body goes from the extreme of cold to warm to hot. I love boiling the water for my oatmeal, greeting my family as they wake up, and talking about what the day ahead will look like. I am filled with a profound sense of gratitude by 8 am every morning. 

I am a creature of habit. Regularity is like a big, heavy, warm blanket for me, the feeling I imagine a toddler has when her mother scoops her up and envelopes her after she's wiped out on the playground. Each morning ritual is like a deep breath, soothing me, and reminding me that I am safe and sound, that I'll be here again tomorrow, same time, same place. 

The pandemic time has given me permission to live this heavily ritualized life in a way that I didn't before. Pre-pandemic, every day was different, depending on what appointments, plans, or meetings I had going for the day. Now a plan is a big deal. Going hiking with a friend means figuring out how to get there in two cars, where to pee along the way, what sanitizing products to bring. Even going to the grocery store includes thinking about the time and how busy it will be, reviewing my list multiple times to ensure that I get everything we need, and of course wearing a mask. I don't want to make plans anymore. It's too complicated. So I keep with the simplicity of the structure I've created.

What will happen when we return to how it was before? Will I be able to maintain this heavy, warm blanket feeling? Will I make time for these rituals that bring me so much comfort? Will the feelings I have now live inside of me in a way that I can touch back into when my life looks and feels very different?

I fear the next phase. As much as I want to hug my friends and live without worry and despair, I fear what I will lose when I am not steeped in this feeling of gratitude for the tiny moments of joy for coffee, oatmeal, the lake, the hot tub, my precious full mornings. When I taught yoga I would tell my students to experience the moments when they felt really present and alive, to be still with those feelings so that they could tap into them when they needed them during moments when they craved that peaceful feeling. "Try to embody this moment right now" I would say. Embodying comes from living something, doing it so much that it is in your body, like a new organ or appendage, whatever the thing is, it becomes part of you. 

My hope is that when we come out of this pandemic, I will have embodied this sense of gratitude for the small things that I have now. That I will walk around with these tiny memories coursing through my body, reminding me of the possibilities that live inside of me. The future is unknown. I can't say if this set of beautiful morning rituals will be with me in one month or one year. All I can do right now is stay with them, keep practicing them, and taking time to feel the joy that comes from each and every moment. And then hopefully, in six months or two years from now, I'll remember this time and it will nourish me as it is now.




Saturday, December 19, 2020

Lessons from the Passenger Seat


I didn't learn to drive until I was twenty-two. My twin sister got her license at sixteen but I never felt the need. I grew up in Chicago and rarely left my neighborhood. When I did, it was easy to get my sister to drive me or to take the bus or the train downtown to go shopping or see my grandparents. I went to college a short plane ride away and on one of my trips home, the woman checking me in at the gate asked for my driver's license. I only had a state ID, a form of identification commonly used as a fake ID back then. The woman told me that I'd need to bring a passport or driver's license the next time I flew. So, that summer my mom gave me a few lessons in the parking lot of 47th and Lake Shore Drive and I took my test. I passed, but barely.

My car is cracked or dented on all four corners, each bumper showing signs of ineptitude. It's a family joke and I take the ribbing about my poor driving in stride because, let's face it, it's all true. I'm also highly anxious and kind of overbearing. When my daughter Lucia turned fifteen, we started talking about her learning to drive. Because of my nagging, anxious tendencies, and my less than stellar driving history, I was considered the last person in her cadre of supportive parents and stepparents in her life to be her driving mentor.

Lucia and I started driving together a few weeks after she started her online driver's ed course during the beginning of the pandemic. Taking practice drives to the drive-thru Starbucks a few miles away was a great way for Lucia to get a little bit of driving experience. After a few drives, Lucia said, "Mom, you are so relaxed when I drive. It's surprising!" And she was right. I felt completely at ease, wholly trusting of this 15 1/2-year-old new driver. I didn't worry about her navigating the tight corner into the drive-thru. I didn't worry about her pulling up too close or too far from the payment window. I didn't worry about her at yellow lights or left turns. 

Having a teenage daughter is the gift our mothers give us. I remember my mother saying, "I can't wait until you have a teenage daughter." And now I say those exact words to Lucia. I am the most uncool, most annoying, least understanding human in my daughter's life. I don't "get" anything. My rules, ideas, and suggestions are an insult to Lucia's budding independent spirit. Her developmental cues are telling her to be in charge, not me. And of course, I, as her parent, still feel compelled to offer my guidance, to shepherd her into adulthood safely and securely.

But, when we are driving, when I am in the passenger seat and Lucia is behind the wheel, there is a recalibration of all the energy that we normally create when we are together. I surrender to her being in charge. Not consciously. It just happens. Maybe it is my lack of driving expertise that renders me so comfortable with Lucia at the helm. But whatever it is, it works. When the two of us are in the car, we are in a groove. She's in charge and I'm not. 

When we are at home, my role is to be in Lucia's business--- about her school work, cleaning her room, her phone, her plans. She never asks me for advice about any of this. She doesn't have to because I always preempt her. It's my way. But when we are driving, Lucia has questions. She needs me and she gets to be in the role of asking me for help. She has technical questions about rules of the road (which I generally cannot answer), but also subjective questions like, "Should I start changing lanes now?", "Why didn't that guy use his blinker?", "How should I pass this biker?"

It's a perfect situation. I, as a poor driver, have little room to offer advice. I'm inexpert and it works for Lucia because, in almost every other realm of our lives together as mother and daughter, I am (or at least I think I am) expert. It's great practice for us both. Lucia gets to drive. She will have to be in charge of this task eventually, both in the car and in other realms of her life. And I get to take a back seat, something I have accepted as a passenger in the car but will have to embrace more fully as Lucia's independence grows. I'm grateful for this driving experience we are sharing. It's a microcosm of the bigger picture of our lives. I, the worried, neurotic, clinging mother, get to watch my smart, capable, competent daughter moving towards the ultimate independence she will soon fully inhabit. Lucia is a good driver. She's on the road and she's going to be just fine. 



Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Space Between

Photo by Genessa Krasnow
We're so close to something big happening, some kind of change. I can feel it. But at the same time, change seems infinitely far away. It feels like Groundhogs' day every day. In the last ten months, I've had moments of feeling okay, even kind of evolved in my perspective about the teachings of life in a pandemic. But I'm not feeling like that right now. I am heavy and dark and carrying the weight of it all right at the center of my chest. It feels like a ten-inch lead cube wedged right at my sternum, sharp and pushing up and down and to either side. I know it is anxiety. I know, because I can psych myself out of it. When I laugh I can breathe. When I am writing I can breathe. When I am doing craft projects or baking I can breathe. It's when I am talking to someone about the news or looking at my calendar trying to make plans or lying in bed in the dark before falling asleep, following one rabbit hole of fear after another, that I cannot breathe deeply and fully.

The more I lean into my anxiety and fear, the more I understand about it. I still struggle with my heavy, tight chest, but I am learning more about it. I am unveiling new truths about how to welcome the anxiety and form a relationship with it. The more curious I become about my anxiety, the more I can see what is on the other side. A week ago my friend Genessa and I decided to do a cold plunge on Sunday morning. We went down to Lake Washington at 8 am and dove in. It was freezing but invigorating. We decided to do it again the next day and the next and the next. We've done it every day for a week (I missed two mornings and her one for work), and it's become something I look forward to doing at the beginning of my day. My sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia even joined in two days in a row. 

What I notice about the plunge is that there is much to learn in the moments right before the plunge and right after, but the greatest teaching is in the one second of actual submersion.  Right before diving in, I feel afraid, resistant. I don't want to be that cold. I could just turn around and put on my robe. But then, almost like tricking myself, I do it anyway. As quickly as I dove in, I rear up out of the cold water, screaming, running for shore. I am elated, excited, flooded with happiness. In that moment I can do anything. I am exactly where I should be.

In that moment between the fear of diving in and the joy of popping back out, there is complete and utter stillness, like pausing a movie or a total blackout. The shock of the cold water is so forceful that, for a moment, I lose all of my memories of the past and worries for the future. I am completely present to that singular moment between fear and safety, warmth and cold, resistance, and triumph. 

In that split second, I am the confluence of all of those opposite thoughts and sensations and emotions at the same time. And it's like a magic portal opens and there, on the other side, awaits joy. I can breathe deeply and fully into both lungs. The giant lead cube shrinks to a spec. I can see, in technicolor, the sky above me, the pebbles on the beach, the geese flying just above the water. I can feel the air on my skin, the gentle wind tickling the droplets of lake water. I can hear the laughter of Genessa and Lucia, their joy meeting mine like a wave as we all make our way towards shore. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Eye of the Hurricane

Being in the unknown is hard for me. Truth be told, it's nearly impossible. I have immediate and persistent physical manifestations that remind me I am struggling. Like many people, my dis-ease appears in my breath. I can't get a deep breath. Each time I try to inhale, it is like a bird flying freely and then smashing into a window pane. The breath reaches the spot right before my lungs open and gets turned around. I try again and again until finally I can get a deep breath. But the multiple attempts render me even more anxious and frightened. This newest COVID surge has got me back on the crazy train and I'm in a daily battle with my breath.

The teacher in my meditation group told us yesterday that she likes to start her day by stepping outside and feeling the weather. But before she does that, she says, she does a brief inventory of how her internal weather looks. My partner Nancy is from New Orleans and has lived through dozens of hurricanes. Last night she was talking about the eye of the hurricane-- the moment of quiet where it seems like the storm is over, but it's not. When the storm comes back though, is unknown. Without warning, BOOM!, it's back. When she was talking last night I realized that this is how I feel when my breath is tight. It's dark and ominously still and scary and I am petrified in waiting for what comes next. I hate this moment. I want it to be over. My weather right now is that of a hurricane, in the eye of the storm, hidden indoors, trying to avoid the inevitable winds and rains and floods that I know will come before the storm is over.

About a month ago, one of my oldest friends disappeared. She's still there, but she doesn't want to be in contact with me. The circumstances are complicated and confusing. The truth is I don't fully understand why she doesn't want to be friends anymore. I tend to be direct, maybe too direct. I want to work it out, talk it out, get to the bottom of it all. But that's not her way. I understand now that her way is to do what she's doing-- to disappear. 

In response to her dropping away, I've had to do some uncomfortable self-study about my reaction to her disappearance. My feeling of discomfort is familiar, like a mild version of my anger, fear and frustration about COVID.  I am sitting in wait, anticipating if and when this friend will show up again. But my real feelings are bigger than that. I am mad. I am hurt. I am outraged. In not giving myself permission to feel those feelings, I am putting myself in the eye of the hurricane. I have rendered myself powerless, waiting for her to make a decision. Sitting in the eye of the storm is the safest. I'm contracted, not letting myself feel the full range of real feelings about this friendship. I know why I'm sitting here, waiting. I fear that if I let myself go beyond the eye of the storm, into the turbulent emotions that are really there-- the mad, sad, and rejected feelings-- that I will not be able to turn back, that I will be saying goodbye to the friendship forever. 

It's the same with COVID. In really sitting in it, acknowledging how painful the losses are, I am letting something in that I really don't want to let in. I am opening myself up to a reality that deeply saddens and frightens me. But being a bird banging into a window over and over is not fun. I don't like being here. I would rather be in violent wind and rain, knowing what is happening, than in this waiting, the unknown, anticipating the destruction at any moment. At least after the stormy weather I know there will be a moment of calm.

And so it is-- the only way out of this emotional hurricane that has hijacked my breathing is to move beyond the eye of the storm. I must venture into the torrential rains and gale force winds of anger and sadness and loss and fear. I have to make room for all of that before I can step out into a clear blue sky. And even as I write these words, understanding their truth, I can feel my chest soften. I feel a sense of relief. I can breathe again. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Longing

I am aware of great longing in myself and others these days. Longing to get on an airplane and celebrate Thanksgiving with family. Longing to hug my best friend instead of nod from a distance. Longing to make a plan of any kind without contemplating the new rules and the new fears. 

My sister Katherine gave me a bizarre, complicated craft project for my birthday a few weeks ago. It is a sticky sheet with thousands of tiny color-coded squares that, when filled in with thousands of tiny crystal beads using a tiny tweezer-like tool, makes a complete image. Mine is of three dandelions in a rainbow of light. It took me a while to get into it, but now I find great pleasure in the tiny-ness of this project. Tiny bead by tiny bead it is slowly coming together.

Last Thanksgiving my two sisters and their families came to stay and we had a houseful of crafty, musical, hilarious people. Tons of food, games, and family dynamics. It was a multi-day love fest. The dining room table where I do my new beading project is the same table where we all sat last Thanksgiving-- painting water colors, playing cards and Bananagrams, eating meals and chatting. As I placed the little crystal beads on their respective squares, my mind wandered to this time last year. My heart smiled as the images flowed through my memory.

For a moment it was as if I was looking down at myself; I was standing at a crossroads and my choices were to go towards the longing or to be in the present moment. In one direction were dustings of last year's memories still floating around me like smoke from a candle just snuffed. In another was me, sitting at my dining room table beside the warm, lit fireplace, the sounds of my daughter and partner somewhere in the house, my lukewarm, half-filled tea cup sitting next to my beading project. It was a micro-moment where I somehow made the choice to be here. As if waking from a dream I was back in my project, engaged and enjoying the present moment. I was aware that the longing was still there but it wasn't nagging or painful. It didn't take away from my joy. 

Thanksgiving looks very different this year. And I'm okay with that. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Goodbye. For Now.

I'm getting ready to rally my family to make a Gratitude Tree. It's a Thanksgiving ritual that I started when my daughter Lucia was four years old. Now sixteen, she's not super into it but agreed to do it as a birthday gift to me. I schlepped the collage supplies up from the basement and they sit in wait on the dining room table. To make room for the Gratitude Tree, I will have to take down the Ofrenda I made for the Day of the Dead this year. I have on it photos of people who have died, people I loved who I miss and honor. 

This morning as I sat at the dining room table drinking my coffee, I spent time looking at all of the images of those people. I've been thinking a lot about my dad's death. It's fresh in my mind because of the recent passing of my sister-in-law, mother to four wonderful children, the youngest of whom is just twelve. My brothers were just twelve and fourteen when my father died almost twenty-five years ago. I'm thinking a lot about them, wondering how Dad's death changed their lives.

My dad's death, and all of the deaths I've experienced in my life, affected me profoundly. When my Nana died, just a few months before my dad, I had my first understanding of what a soul means to me. Being raised in a secular household, we didn't talk about what happens after one dies, so I had to create my own understanding. After Nana died, I could still feel her. The memories and the visceral sense of love from her was still with me. And then when Dad died I felt it again. The longer they were gone, the stronger the sense became. I understood this internal sense to be the presence of their souls. In my ad-hoc, non-religious definition of what the soul is, I understood that the soul never dies. This gave me comfort then and it gives me comfort now.


When I look at the images of my grandmothers and grandfathers and my father and my Uncle John and my sister-in-law Shannon and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I feel a sense of peaceful company. These beautiful souls are still with me. I wonder what they would have thought about this time we are in now. This Pandemic. This political mayhem. My Jewish dad used to have a large marble bust of one of the popes. On it he placed sunglasses and a scarf around his neck pinned with buttons from different lefty candidates and pro-choice campaigns. My dad would have been so outraged at the state of the world. My dad would have adored Ruth Bader Ginsberg. 

I am grateful that my grandparents didn't have to live through this time stuck in their assisted living facilities or alone in their apartments with a nurse, no family able to visit. My memories of them are of swimming, the lake cottage, the fourteenth-floor apartment on Lake Shore Drive, ice cold carrots in the square tupperware in the fridge and fresh picked corn on the cob in the summer. My memories of Uncle John are filled with laughter-- silly, borderline inappropriate jokes that only he could tell, and always a warm smile. The memories of Shannon are the most fresh, the ones that have got me thinking about my brothers. Shannon--a mother, filled with love and nurturing energy, buzzing around to make everyone happy. The missing is sharpest in the beginning. Maybe the soul hasn't quite settled, isn't yet available to the living. 

I remember the sharpness after Dad and the others I loved died. It felt like an undigested meal, uncomfortable and irritating in my stomach. But over time, the sorrow broke down and found a home within me. The memories were no longer painful. They were nourishing and comforting, reminders of the presence of their beautiful souls.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Shutting Down

Our country is on high alert. Everyone is nail biting and processing and perseverating on what's happening next. The waiting is unbearable. I have put myself on pause in order to function. I pretend that I am living on a very small planet with just a few people. I walk my dog hoping no one will stop and talk to me about the elections. The news is too much. What do I believe? Who do I trust? Nothing is simple. I am a big picture person, someone who doesn't focus on the little details. I've never been one to analyze the nuances or subtleties. My family laughs at me because I basically feel my way through life. I wait until I feel clear and then I act. 

It's not that I don't care about facts. I do. But these days, in order to get to the truth, I have to find my way through so many opinions and facts (real and misleading), numbers, policies, precedents. It feels like I'm a first grader trying to work my through a comprehensive legal brief on social security tax fraud. It's too much for me and so I turn off. I depend on other trusted people-- my partner Nancy, my daughter Lucia, and my very political friend Genessa, to glean through the garbage mountain of bullshit and tell me what I need to know.


Once, when Lucia was in fourth grade at a brand new school, her teacher sent her and another boy Peter from their portable to the main school building to deliver a note to a fellow teacher.  Lucia, having only been into the main building a handful of times, assumed that her classmate would lead the way and do the job. But when the got to the classroom Peter told Lucia to go in and deliver the note. Lucia, scared and unfamiliar with the scene, asked Peter repeatedly to do it. He continued to refuse. On Lucia's final request Peter looked directly at Lucia, closed his eyes and slumped his body against the wall and, in a slow robotic voice spoke the words, "Shut-ting do-own....." and became completely unresponsive. Lucia had no choice but to deliver the note herself.

When Lucia shared that story at dinner that evening we all laughed at the situation. It was such a creative and effective way for Peter to get out of something he didn't want to do. And by shutting down himself, Lucia had no choice but to take the lead. Though his actions left Lucia in a hard spot, Peter was clearly coping in his own way. He must have sensed that Lucia would be okay doing that task. And she was. Lucia and Peter went on to become friends and have weaved in and out of friendship for several years now. 

I used to feel bad for not being up to date on all the current events, consumed by the news like my parents. But I realize now that it's not only that I don't want to, it's that part of me can't. It's not the way my brain works and I don't want to force it in that direction. So now, like Peter, I am shutting down. As the waiting continues I am a broken down robot, dead battery, short circuited, mainframe blown. I am shut down. Every day I turn on for a few minutes and ask Genessa what I need to know. Then I go back inside and wait again. I'll turn on again when the waiting is over. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hope vs. Despair


Yesterday morning I got up and did a morning write. What came to me in those early hours, less than a week before the presidential election, was how I long to keep hope alive. I meditate often these days. At the end of my stillness, I ask myself, "what is it you long for today?" Almost always, the answer is hope. I want to keep that energy alive in my body because the opposite, despair, is on the other side, pulling me steadily into that dark, heavy cave. 

Hope feels like warm water all over, a calm steadiness in my chest and belly with a very slight flutter just around my heart. I feel peaceful in hope, filled with color and the promise of possibility. In despair, my chest tightens and it feels like there is a vice around my lungs; I can't get a deep breath. There's gray everywhere and my imagination disappears.

I spend my days moving between these two big feelings-- hope and despair. I prefer hope but no matter how I try, I can't banish despair. It's too strong. It wants to be heard too. When I think about the election, I want to bring hope to the process, to the outcome, but as soon as I lean into that feeling--the awesomeness of changing this administration, of saving our earth and our humanity--there is despair, that dark smokey ghost looming right at the edges of my shiny yellow hope. It reminds me that it's okay to have hope, but I must also make room for despair--the possibility of my longing not being met, of this current administration prevailing.

I imagine there are a lot of people in this situation right now. We are worried and hopeful and scared and excited. I believe in the power of energy and the power of the people. I believe that our intentions matter. I believe that the energy behind making phone calls and writing letters to Texas and North Carolina (even if the letters are never opened or the phones are never answered) makes a difference. These things help keep my hope alive. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar give me hope. Watching the twentieth hurricane this year hit New Orleans and the fires continuing to burn in Southern California gives me despair. 

Hope and despair. Both are real. Both are here. What I understand a little bit better from spending time with both of these emotions is that they are working together. The presence of each allows me to know the other. And, though I don't want to feel despair, when it shows up it is sending me a message. It is telling me is that I am strong enough to hold that feeling too, even if I don't want to. I must make friends with despair, to welcome it in the way I welcome hope. When I do this, when I close my eyes and let despair settle in without the struggle, I can feel it starting to quiet down. I'm not fighting it, not pushing it away. And after a while of letting despair be there, just like a mother sneaking away from her young daughter's crib after finally getting her to sleep, despair tip-toes out of the room. And hope comes back.  


Monday, October 19, 2020

Freedom

Fall has come like the click of a camera. All of a sudden the leaves have changed. The air is cool and I want to eat soup. This morning I woke up well before sunrise. As I drank my coffee and stared out into my back patio, I found myself thinking back to last year at this time. In October of last year, I had just sold my business. I was experiencing a new kind of freedom for the first time in almost twenty years. I was unencumbered by work and energized to have more time and space in my life. 

It took me a while to really feel that freedom in my bones, to not check my email several times a day, to shake the feeling that I had something to do even when I didn't. By January, I noticed that I felt different. My weekends really felt like weekends. Instead of keeping a running list of tasks I had to complete, I was imagining projects I dreamed of doing. I was lighter in all ways.

And then in February Coronavirus hit. My immediate response was fear. We're all going to die! My next response was relief. I didn't have to figure out how to run a business in this new, unknown mayhem of our world. And then guilt. I had sold my business to a dear friend and loyal employee and now it was her problem. Suddenly I didn't feel so free anymore. 

And now we are nine months into Coronavirus and I am reflecting on the very concept of freedom. I am not free in the way I once felt free. None of us is. We are more more limited in where we go, who we see, what activities we do, than ever in our lives. But those very limits, it seems, offer me a sense of freedom. A freedom from.

As I rounded the corner from the stress of running a business into Corona times, I fell almost immediately into this new tiny world of my home and my immediate family. I go to the grocery store; I see a handful of friends, mostly one-on-one, very occasionally;  and I volunteer at the senior center once a week making hot lunches for delivery. But other than that I am at home. My world has become very small. 

This new, small world offers me a freedom from obligations that I didn't even register felt like obligations before. I am free from the responsibility of planning trips to see family, from organizing activities to fill the school breaks. I am free from rsvp-ing to dinner parties or planning them myself. I am free from coffee dates and school events and block parties and neighborhood meetings. There are clear moments when I miss those things. Yesterday I had an all-day ache to just talk to a friend in person, to hang out and drink a glass of wine and eat almonds and olives at one of our kitchen tables.

But the overall feeling I have in one of calm. The simplicity of my life is clear and present. Nine months into this new way, I can feel this simplicity in my body. It's the feeling I had when I was girl, spending time at my grandmother's cottage on Pelican Lake. Nothing to do. Nowhere to be. No one to become. This feeling is my constant companion these days. The call of obligation and expectation is only a whisper of my past; I can hardly remember living that way. 

That feeling leaves me more regularly now, as we near the most important election in our history. I find myself in a panic. My chest tightens and my ears get hot. I feel a swell of blood behind my eyebrows. I am petrified. This morning when I woke up I went into our living room and meditated. As I rested in stillness, periodically looking out the window at the sky starting to lighten, I imagined our world feeling this way. I imagined a calm flooding over Trump and Biden and Pelosi and Putin and Johnson and all the world leaders. I visualized this calm washing over my family and friends and neighbors and community. I envisioned it and I prayed for it.

I am grateful to have this period in my life where I am aware and present to this feeling of calm I have now. I hope that, when things in our world change again, when the expectations and obligations of my life become bigger and louder, I will be able to touch back into this feeling and experience it the way I am now. 




Thursday, October 1, 2020

Who Am I?

When I was in India a few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Arunachala, a small mountain in the Tamil Nadu region of Southern India. The plan was to visit the mountain early in the day, but my friend Suchana and I had missed a connecting flight in Dubai and my luggage had also been lost so, between the lost time from our missed connection and the hours spent trying to track down my bag, we were many hours late. By the time we arrived from Chennai to Arunachala to embark on our mini-trek, it was already late afternoon. But we still wanted to visit the mountain. Our guide, Saran, took me, Suchana, and the three friends who'd arrived a few days prior to the base of the mountain. It was still light when we started our journey, but, by the time we were back down it was pitch black. I remember squinting to keep sight of my friend Sonja's white clothing to stay on course.

At the beginning of our trek Saran told us to internally chant the mantra, "Who Am I?" 

"Not with the hope of getting an answer," Saran encouraged, "but rather to simply open up to that question."


Those few hours in the pitch black were disorienting and, at times, scary. There were all kinds of animal and people sounds and no lights to guide us. I recited the mantra, "Who Am I?" over and over. It calmed me and kept me focused. Had I released the mantra and invited a specific answer to the query, I would have become distracted and disorganized. I might have lost my way in the dark, fallen, or injured myself in some way.

But I got down the mountain. We had a cup of chai and went home to sleep. Though my luggage had been lost and I'd spent several hours wandering around in the dark, I felt calm and happy. The next morning, my luggage still nowhere to be found, I donned a pair of borrowed disposable underwear and continued on with my day.

Since I sold my business exactly one year ago, I have been on a similar journey. When I left that almost twenty-year commitment, I gave myself permission to be open, to inquire of myself, "Who Am I?" I'm a seeker, maybe too much so at times. That question, "Who Am I?" is a blessing and a curse for me. The other day while contemplating my professional future with my partner Nancy, I said that I dreamed of teaching Yoga Nidra meditation full-time. But then, as quickly as I voiced the dream, I said, "But who am I to be able to do that?"

That inner voice that spoke back to me was not one of curiosity or openness, it was one of criticism and restriction. The irony wasn't lost on me. As soon as I heard my inner critic say, "Who am I?", I heard Saran's voice adding on top of it, in a more gentle, loving voice, "Who Am I?" It is a tiny difference in inflection, but a monumental shift in perspective. The former, "Who am I?" is a finite question, one that commands a definitive answer. The latter, "Who Am I?" is a question that provides ongoing, ever-changing self-reflection and contemplation. It invites the possibility to change and grow and discover. 

So, as I acknowledge this one-year anniversary of making a big life change, I am reminded of the importance of staying open to, "Who Am I?" instead of bogged down by "Who am I?" It means being unsure, walking through the dark sometimes. Especially now, when so much is unknown--our county is socially and politically in shambles, the Coronavirus is a mystery that continues to challenge us in almost all realms of our lives, and our very earth is screaming for help. How can I know who I am right now, much less tomorrow? How can any of us? 

The mantra, "Who Am I?", gives me hope. Today I might feel devastated by online school challenges. But tomorrow I might feel grateful for a laughter-filled family dinner. The world is always changing. The people around me are always changing, and so am I. I'm grateful for the memory of that nighttime trek with Saran and my friends. As I, along so many of you, struggle through these very uncertain times, I can rest in the wisdom that we don't have to know all the answers. We just have to keep asking the right questions. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

LJs Free Online Shopping

A few weeks ago I started adding the phrase, "with Corona on top" when talking about hard things. Anything challenging--- sickness, unemployment, divorce, depression-- are all so much harder "with Corona on top." It was meant to be kind of funny, a nod to how much we endure, a testament to our collective resilience.  And then the fires came and I stopped using that phrase. I had no words for this new experience. "__________ with Corona and unbreathable air on top" wasn't funny or clever. It was just painful.

So, like I do when I am at a loss for how I feel, I wrote. I imagined becoming like an enormous stand-alone bellows, pulling in all my strength and patience, tapping my reserves, harnessing it all, and then infusing that strength and patience into my little world, revitalizing myself and my family. And it worked. I felt better, more stable, like I could, even though I thought I couldn't, ride this new topping in my life. I wouldn't fall into the hole of despair. I would keep on going. 

But despite best laid plans, into despair I did indeed fall. On Friday my friend Jamie and I had made a plan to take our daughters hiking. It was the last day before school started full-time and we wanted to get into nature and reconnect with ourselves and each other. And, since we can't be inside together, these outdoor excursions are one of the important ways we can facilitate social time for our kids. But the smoke was too bad and we couldn't hike. And we couldn't hunker down in one of our houses and watch a movie. We abandoned the idea of spending the day together and I sat in my boat of despair, moaning and whining all morning long. 

Then we got the idea to meet at the Goodwill Bins. This is the thing my daughter Lucia will always say yes to, even if it means going with her weird mother. So we met at the bins, spent a socially distanced hour, then returned home where we double-washed all our clothes. That night we had a Zoom fashion show where we tried on all of our items. We laughed and laughed.  I was surprised by how spontaneously the day turned from miserable to magnificent.

Each time Lucia and I go to the Bins the agreement is that we will unload some of the clothes in our closets to make room for these new treasures. I have a lot of treasures and it didn't feel right to just send them back to Goodwill so I came up with the idea of creating an online platform to offer these items to my friends (and their friends) for free. Lucia set me up an Instagram account. Jamie quickly and enthusiastically joined the project and LJsfreeonlineshopping was born. I spent hours over the weekend in my little basement office posting items and funny descriptions. I made special LJs labels and packaged each "sold" item. Then I delivered the items to friends who'd claimed these treasures. 

One definition of resilience is "the ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy." These days of quarantine, social distancing, radically changed daily habits and patterns topped with imminent threat to our environment and to so many lives in our region, have charged us all with the task of digging deeper, finding ways to be okay in the midst of all of it. We are being called to be SUPER RESILIENT.

At the beginning of that Friday when Jamie and I recognized that we couldn't go hiking and we couldn't watch a movie together, I was in despair. I was angry and bitter and resentful. I let myself go there.  But some little part of me knew that I couldn't stay there. I had to find a crack of light in that dark box. And I did. I see this happening all around me, everyday. People are figuring this out, each in their own way.  And, with each experience of one of us finding a glimmer of light, even just a little bit, even for a moment, our collective resilience is being fortified. When you are in the despair, as we all are sometimes, it's okay to let yourself be there. You're not alone and you won't be there forever.  

Monday, September 7, 2020

Like a Big Old Tree


Conflict sucks. It's scary to have a different opinion, to feel alone and insecure, to worry about sounding stupid. I wonder how people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg manage. Ginsburg is in a perpetual state of contemplating dissenting opinions. At the end of the contemplation, she must make her one true judgment. She has to be sure. I envy the confidence, clarity, and certainty that is required of people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Lisa Damour, the author of two life-saving books on female adolescent development, says that we can teach our girls about conflict by explaining that, generally, there are three types of conflict management-- the bulldozers, the doormats, and the doormats with spikes. Damour says that, like most humans, girls are not great at conflict. Most people avoid conflict because we worry about being too vulnerable or being judged or standing out. So instead of rooting down and finding solid ground before entering into conflict, we tend to unconsciously fall into one or more of those three categories. 

What we want to strive for instead, says Damour, is to be more like pillars. A pillar stands up for herself without stepping on anyone else (bulldozer), lying down and avoiding the conflict (doormat) or through passive-aggressive techniques (doormat with spikes). In my own conflict self-analysis, I have deduced that I manage conflict using all three of those dysfunctional techniques with different people, in different situations.

But I want to be a pillar. I want to stand tall without sublimating my needs, causing destruction or playing games. I get what Damour is saying about the pillar, but in my mind, I think of the pillar as more of a big old tree; I envision an ancient, weathered Oak tree on a well-travelled city street. Children climb on it, windstorms ravage it, birds and squirrels build their homes in it, lightning might even strike it. But the tree, deeply rooted in the earth, stands tall, enduring the weather and the traffic, the animal life and the humanity. Over years and decades and centuries the tree might shift, settling at an angle from an earthquake or a tornado. The tree might loose a few big branches, but the grounding is always there. I think of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as this magnificent tree. She's been at it for a long time, fielding the elements as they come, in the face of it all, still standing up for the truth without bulldozing, lying down or using dirty tricks.

The other day my friend Molly told me the story of her neighbor clandestinely chopping down a grand old tree. The tree, an exceptional tree, as it is called in tree-lover's vernacular, enveloped a large corner of Molly's yard. She loved that tree. It was part of her home, part of her family. As the neighbors cut down the tree, Molly cried. When she described her experience watching the unconscious destruction of this tree, I could feel her agony. Though there was no bulldozer, there might as well have been. To not honor that tree, to negate the hundred-plus years of hard work and enduring presence of that tree, is to step all over it. Now, where that exceptional tree used to stand, shading and protecting Molly's yard with familiar loving branches, there is a big empty space.

It takes time, nourishment, sunlight, love, and respect to grow into an exceptional tree. And it takes experience, insight, and patience to become a pillar in the face of conflict. The destruction of the tree that bordered Molly's yard feels emblematic of the culture of conflict in our country right now. Instead of being trees--big, exceptional, firmly routed trees standing side by side, enduring the different elements as they come-- the polarized political sides are chopping each other down, leaving big empty spaces instead of creating a beautiful growing forest. 

Conflict, whether between teenage girls or political parties, can be looked at the same way. Wherever there are two different brains there will be two different opinions. It's no difference that is the problem, it's the absence of pillars (or trees). That big tree in Molly's yard was strong. It endured decades of external conflict from the weather and disease and animals, but she stayed alive, firmly rooted in her role as a tree. That tree would still be a tree if someone hadn't bulldozed her down. Had the neighbors made a different choice, there might even be a sapling growing beside her. 

I wonder if it's possible to work towards this-- towards creating a forest of trees (or pillars).  As we continue to evolve, hopefully into a more kind and gentle humanity, I dream of this possibility. It seems like a fantasy, that two drastically different opinions could stand side by side, like a Douglas Fir and Big Leaf Maple; that conflict could result in a reaction other than a bulldozer, a doormat, or a doormat with spikes. But I have to believe that it's possible. I want it for myself. I want it for my teenage daughter. And I want it for the world.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Hope Lives in Our Memories

A few nights ago Nancy and I were sitting on our porch. We were looking down the hill at the lake and in the far distance, past the I-90 bridge, we could see the peaks of Mount Baker. I was sitting on our comfy outdoor couch and our view was beautiful and expansive, but I felt out of body, uncomfortable. I told Nancy that I feel, almost all the time, like I am on a long plane ride in a very uncomfortable middle seat. If I move I can feel comfortable, but the feeling lasts only for a moment and then I'm back in the squished, contorted position, unable to recline, unable to relax. For brief moments I can find peace and joy and relief, but before too long I go back to despair and worry and longing.

Before this pandemic I worried, but not constantly. Though I might not have been able to recognize it, I felt a general sense of peace. This feeling of imminent fear, of hyper-vigilance that I have now, was not with me all the time. I could recline. I could relax. I wasn't waiting for an unexpected surge or siege to hit at any moment. The very acknowledgment of this loss of peace fills me with grief. I don't want this feeling, this interminable cramped plane trip feeling. 

As I contemplated the feeling of emotional discomfort that I (and so many people I know) am experiencing right now, I became aware of my very black and white thinking with regard to this pandemic-- if the pandemic is over I will be comfortable; if the pandemic is here I will be in distress. I have no frame of reference for a reality such as we are living in right now.  

There are places in the world where the daily struggle is so much more profound than I could ever imagine. Thinking about this helps me. This perpetual dis-ease so many of us are experiencing right now is not new for millions of people. People in war-torn countries or extreme poverty or exploitive or abusive situations experience this feeling every day. What do they do? They find ways to get through it, one day at a time. They live with the struggle because they have to. Right now we are riding a wave that we, as individuals cannot stop. I cannot change the course of this pandemic. No matter how hard I work, I cannot change it. This helplessness is where my greatest discomfort lives. 

I began to think about other times in my life that I've been uncomfortable or in distress. Recently I was on a very long, arduous hike. The way up was exhausting and scary and the way down was jarring and practically wrecked my knees. At the end of that hike I was so happy! The struggle was over and I could sit in the car and drink long gulps of water. I could sink into a feeling of accomplishment and relief. There would be no more hiking that day and I could rest.

Or when I gave birth and was in labor for close to two days. When my midwife forbade me from getting horizontal and made me walk the stairs and the streets to get the baby moving. When she had me doing triangle pose to open my hips at the thirty-sixth hour of my endless labor. At the end of it all Lucia was born. The struggle was over and I was filled with lightness and joy.

But this pandemic is long and it is universal. It's not about me climbing a mountain or moving through the stages of childbirth. It's about billions of people working together to contain this virus. It's about leaders supporting communities and businesses and people to have enough food and housing and money to do the right thing. The little drops in the bucket that I add to the cause-- wearing a mask, social distancing, limiting contacts, not flying, even my work as a contact tracer-- feel meaningless in the face of this vastly expansive virus. So I sit in the middle ground, helpless, comfortable and safe for moments on my porch, but filled with fear and doubt when I think about the hugeness of this pandemic for even two minutes.

This is uncomfortable. This is insane. I want out. I want off this plane. But I don't get to choose that option. None of us does. So what is the answer? What is my answer? I once heard someone say, "hope lives in our memories." I've found this to be true. I think about what I know from the much smaller struggles in my life. When I look back at these painful, uncomfortable times to recall what got me through, here's what I remember: I had faith that the experience (the mountain, the labor, the breakup....) would end eventually;  I trusted my own strength and ability to endure the pain and discomfort. Remembering connects me to my resilience and gives me hope that this pandemic won't last forever. We really will get off this plane one day.

Friday, August 7, 2020

A World of Service

I regularly walk along a narrow path next to Lake Washington. It is a well-traveled path for both runners and walkers. With Coronavirus there is an unspoken agreement among most of us to step off of the path when walking towards an oncoming walker or runner. Usually there is some eye-contact and one person steps up the hill so there is the requisite six-feet of space. 

A few weeks ago I was walking with my earbuds in. I was talking to my friend Jenna and I was on a very narrow stretch of path when I heard a loud "GOOOO!" at the back of my head. It was a woman running, fast, shouting at me to get out of her way. I was shocked, jolted, and afraid. I decompressed with Jenna who'd heard the woman's insane yelling but the experience stuck with me. The unnecessary act of aggression revisited me several times like a flashback.

Then last week I was walking my dog on Lake Washington Boulevard, a popularly traveled street that is now temporarily closed to cars. There are tons of bikers, walkers, skaters, scooters and strollers on Lake Washington Boulevard these days; it feels like some kind of exotic boardwalk and I love it. On this particular day a little boy was riding his bike onto Lake Washington Boulevard from a side street when a super speedy bike racer was approaching this boy's entrance point. The speed biker had to move out of the boy's path, reducing his speed quite a bit. As the speed biker passed the boy, he yelled, "MORON!" 

"What the hell?!!!" I thought to myself and impulsively yelled to the boy, "You're not a moron. He's a moron?" I didn't want that poor kid to think that there was anything normal about what that grown man-baby had done. 

These experiences are so upsetting because they are micro-reminders of the selfishness and individualistic nature that has pervaded our nation. We need a complete overhaul, some way to step back and reinvest in community, in collective consciousness and kindness. As I contemplate the absence of goodness in my city and country, I am also preparing to send my fifteen-year-old back to school--to a system that will be thrown together online, a system that may or may not teach the kids anything, to a system that I fear will suck the passion for learning right out of their spongey, curious brains.

What if, instead of throwing our kids into a pieced together online system that sets everyone up for failure--kids, teachers, administrators and parents-- we did something totally different? What if we deemed the 2020-21 school year "The Year of Service?" It could be like Roosevelt's New Deal-- we'd enlist all of our kids, from elementary through college in service projects. Instead of going through the motions of learning something half-way, we would, as a society, teach all of our students the value of community,  contribution, and service.

The elementary school kids could write letters to isolated elderly people and plant community gardens. The middle and high school kids could clean the streets and pull invasive species from our parks, work at the food banks, tutor younger kids and build tiny houses. Kids of driving age could deliver meals to people and shuttle supplies to different projects. College-aged kids could help with all of that and take this project to the next level--documenting it, analyzing data, writing reports. Teachers would be the coordinators of the projects. Parents with time could assist. And at the end of the school year everyone will have learned something new. Everyone will have had the experience of helping, contributing, being a part of something amazing. Doesn't that sound better than a year of half-assing school?

I know it's just a fantasy, but what if we could make it happen? If you share this dream, if you want to make it happen too, spread the word. Share the idea. Let's do something different. Let's bring back kindness and community. Let's teach it in school and see what happens.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Looking Inward

Parenting a teenager in the time of Coronavirus is a constant exercise in getting your ass kicked. Like most teenagers, my daughter Lucia wants to be free, liberated from my clutches, but the quarantine and social distancing parameters make that hard. I can feel her need for space all the time. I'm forever trying to find ways to engage positively. Last week I read the idea of making a papier mâché piñata Coronavirus cell in the New York Times. I thought this would be a fun activity to do together and broached the idea yesterday morning.

"Hey, Lu," I chirped as she emerged from her basement bedroom, "do you want to do a project with me today?"
"Unnhhhh," she moaned, "What is it?"
"A Coronavirus piñata!" I replied with the enthusiasm my little brother used to have about going to Chucky Cheese.
"Sure," she said, placating me, but within a few minutes, she'd made plans with a friend to ride bikes to the pier and hang out with a bunch of other kids.

I went ahead and set up my piñata supplies on the picnic table in our sunny front yard. To make the virus I would need three full coats of papier mâché, and time for each of the coats to fully dry between coats. I was grateful for the sunny day and the coats dried in about an hour. Between coats, I gardened, folded laundry, and hand-painted twist ties with red paint that I would apply once the virus was fully dried and spray painted.

My idea was to fill my Coronavirus piñata with goodies and bash the shit out of it. I've recently taken a temporary job as a contact tracer for COVID-19 and I'm all too aware of how the numbers in our city and country are soaring. Making the piñata occupied my energy creatively and the activity served the purpose of giving me something concrete to start and finish. I've noticed in this time of great unknowns, starting and completing a singular task is hugely satisfying and calming. While I couldn't put my daughter in a bubble and protect her from this pandemic-infested world, I could focus my energy on making a piñata instead of worrying. The time spent making the piñata gave me the sense, albeit fleeting, that I had some control over something.

Our lawn sits above the sidewalk and I can see down to Lake Washington from our yard. I spent the day watching people parking and carrying rafts, paddleboards, kayaks, and inner tubes down to the water. I saw and heard throngs of people enjoying the sun and the water.

We're struggling to bash this coronavirus. In this country of free will and infinite choices, we are having a hard time being uncomfortable, limiting ourselves to the degree that we need to quell this beast. As I sat on the picnic bench dipping newspaper strips into flour-water-glue, worrying about my own daughter getting enough social distance on the pier she was sunbathing at, I worried too about the people racing down to crowd the beaches. Many wore masks but many didn't.

What do we do? It's not just the teens that are struggling, resisting the imperative to limit our contact with others. It's counterintuitive. We are made for contact and we desperate for it. We're all experiencing a loss and that's painful. We don't have good tools for moving through grief and loss. But we're all in it right now and there's nothing wrong with any of us. This is just the way it is right now.  I don't have the answer for moving through this grief and loss, but I know what's worked for me.

In my grief I've had to turn inwards, to ask myself what will nourish me. I've had to find a new way to engage myself. One week it was making masks. Another was taking an online course. Another was job hunting. One week was creating an outside space where we could invite people over to socialize. Yesterday was making a Coronavirus piñata. There's always writing, taking long walks, writing letters, and spending time with my family. I remember in my mid-twenties when my dad died, I was in a swirl of grief and I didn't know how to settle. I was closer to my daughter Lucia's age; I didn't have the inclination to look inward. I was focused on what I'd lost, what wasn't there anymore and I was seeking, trying to find connection outside. I'm a quarter of a century older now and I've learned how to look inward from my grief.

When Lucia got home from the pier, we ate a delicious dinner together on our little outside patio. Nancy had made a smorgasbord of summer delights and it felt like a regular summer night. We talked about our days and enjoyed the last moments of the sun. Later on in the evening Lucia and I had a mini-battle about my strictness and my worry.  She wants more freedom and I'm trying to create a bubble. It's easy for me to look inwards because I'm fifty. If I were fifteen I'd be doing exactly what she's doing, trying to bust out. We're both evolving, limping along as we figure out how to navigate adolescence in the time of Coronavirus. I know there will be lots of bumps in the road and lots of beautiful moments too. I can't wait to bust the Coronavirus together. 

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.

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