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 judgement. 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 not 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.

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, paddle boards, 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 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 in the summer, the precious three months of our year when Northwesterners can roam freely without a rain jacket. 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 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. I'm pretty sure that will be fun for both of us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump the Coyote

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Great Slowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Calmed by the Crowd


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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 29, 2020

Schooled by Sourdough

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Be like the Beavers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The opposite of a Grateful Dead Concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Wisdom We Once Had

Last week I had a major meltdown. I called my friend Jamie from the QFC parking lot and talked it through. It helps that Jamie and I have known each other forever, raised our kids together, and she's a therapist. One of the wise things Jamie said was that this time is hard because we have nothing to note the passing of time-- no dinner parties, no long-awaited vacations, no conferences or family visitors. For better or for worse, many of us feel like we are in one long groundhog's day. The interminability of this is relentless and exhausting.

Yesterday we went to our friend Cuc's house to celebrate her 50th birthday. We all sat strategically away from each other on a patch of concrete in front of the house, sipping champagne from disposable cups and eating pre-packaged snacks. At one point Cuc said, "My word for this time is 'interminability.'"
"Mine too!" I exclaimed, feeling supported and understood by this kindred spirit six feet across from me.

At one point, during our driveway 50th birthday champagne celebration, Cuc's six-year-old son Max was taking polaroid pictures. He couldn't get a good shot because he had to stand so far away from us. "Someday,"I said, "you'll be able to get closer to us and take a better picture." To which he said, more to the sky than to any of us, "Why is everything temporary?"

And there it was, another jewel of wisdom from a brilliant young soul. This has happened several times since I started writing. I'll hear something and it will jump out into a neon-laced cloud above me and flash "this must be written about!" That this six-year-old kindergartener could see this experience of social distancing as temporary while his mother and I see it only as interminable is amazing!

Plato believed that we are born with innate knowledge and that, rather than learning ideas, we are just recalling them. I've heard it said that we are born knowing everything we need to know and, as we move through life, we slowly lose that knowledge. I have, for many years, believed that, as children, we are more fully connected to our true nature. The connection to our essence is free flowing and clear. Through socialization and formal education, structure and the norms and values that pervade our growing up, we lose the clear connection to that innate knowing. We can get it back, but it is work, much like peeling an onion, listening for questions that need answers and being willing to ask them-- to ourselves and to the world.

And sometimes we get a gift, like the seeming non sequitur offered by six-year-old Max, "Why is everything temporary?" And just like that, in flashing neon clarity, was the truth. This is temporary. Everything is temporary-- the shelter in place, a rainy day, being six-years-old, the feeling of interminability. The future is brighter. My heart feels lighter. I am hopeful and inspired. Thank you Max.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Shitty Attitude

Last week at dinner Lucia said something to the effect of, "Mom, I realize how much time I have. Today when I got out of the shower I made those little baby footprints out of the condensation on the mirror. I can't remember the last time I did  that. I'm usually in such a rush." I wish I could get to that appreciation for the extra time we have right now. I wish there was a magic button I could press that would give me access to that feeling instead of the one I'm feeling now.

Today my brain is in one of those moods- like a noisy airport with no windows or doors, no flights leaving anytime soon. It feels like the thoughts, the judgments, the criticisms are having an all day game of speed. There's constant noise and motion and I am exhausted. I want out. Everything is irritating me.

I'm want to connect with the beauty of this extra time, to appreciate that, if I wanted to, I could take a nice long shower and decorate the mirror afterwards. What is the nature of my unpredictable and sporadic access to delight and joy? The last few days I've had a lot of delightful moments. I've had invigorating Zoom calls with friends. I've taught and taken wonderful classes online. I've enjoyed my family and my neighborhood and nature. But today my inner world is dark and pissed and so, so grumpy.

Why can't I get to the good of this solitary life right now? Nelson Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison, much of it in solitary and he emerged an inspired and prolific leader. What did he know? What were his tricks to harness his own energy into magic? Maybe he had days like this too.

Get yourself together Culberg. We're in a long game here. It can't be all smell the roses, make hand prints on mirrors. I teach this stuff-- to welcome everything-- yet when the bad stuff surges in like a tsunami of tar, coating all of me and every aspect of my world-- it's not easy to welcome that sludge. But there's not really another choice. If I don't welcome it in I spend my time fighting to keep it out--- raging against it. That's where I am and it feels terrible.  Okay, come on in, you shitty attitude. Take a seat. Here's some Earl Gray tea with frothed milk and a little bit of honey. Have a homemade cookie. Have two. You're welcome to stay as long as you need, just please not too long.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Human Honking

Nature is happy right now. Humans have chilled out their activity and our city life has seen a resurgence of animal life. The other day at 2pm I saw a coyote sauntering down Seward Park Avenue on the sidewalk.

There are bunnies everywhere. One even hopped across my shoe the other day at the park. And the geese seem to be as bold as ever, owning their space along the lake like they always do. This morning when I was walking a group of geese was crossing Lake Washington Boulevard. This happens frequently in my neighborhood. As they crossed the sidewalk into the street, I walked down towards the water to avoid any interruption in their path. There was a new batch of goslings and I know that the geese get especially aggressive when their babies are afoot. As I walked I heard a loud honk behind me and saw a blue Prius honking to the geese to hurry across the street.

I've been in that position-- waiting for a gaggle of geese to cross Lake Washington Boulevard so I could get home. Honking doesn't work for the geese. They don't quicken their pace or turn away from the honk. You just have to wait in your idling car until the last goose has passed. I started laughing as I thought about this human response to geese crossing the road. Human honking to make nature's way hurry along. It made me think about this virus, a natural occurrence affecting all of humanity. Many people are trying to hurry the virus along, to make it move out of the way faster, but like the geese, the virus has it's own path. We mere humans cannot make it jump to attention and move out of the way, no matter how we loud we honk.

It's been upsetting to see the protests of late, people raging against the virus, as if this rage can somehow tame the affects or make it go away. It's such a human response, to think that we have the power to overtake nature. It doesn't work. It never has. We can't subdue a hurricane or an earthquake or a tornado by shouting loud enough.

Humans lack patience.  We are so accustomed to taking charge, to getting what we want-- from the trees and the oceans and the inner layers of the earth-- that we've lost the ability to quietly, patiently wait. Recently, in Mumbai, India, the honking capital of the world, government officials experimented with ways to curb the honking. Honking, in addition to causing extreme noise pollution and more traffic chaos, elevates the heart rate, damages the eardrums, and increases overall stress levels. So officials set up 'punishing signals' around the city. Basically, the more you honk, the longer you wait, creating a disincentive to honk. In other words, forcing drivers to sit quietly and patiently while they wait for the light to change. Apparently the experiment is working and there are plans to introduce the punishing signal in other areas of India.

I understand why people are frustrated, rageful even, against this collective pause in our daily lives. The economic effects are scary and very immediately impactful for millions of people. But still,  honking our way to the other side is not the answer. The blue Prius this morning might have gotten to their destination five minutes sooner had they not had to wait for the crossing geese, but by adding their own honking horn, they only added to their own frustration, and the geese didn't change their path at all.

The Coronavirus is our traffic light in Mumbai. The more we honk, the longer we'll wait. We're all in this together people---if one car honks, the punishing signal affects everyone and we'll all wait longer. Now's the time to take a deep breath, put your car in park, and patiently wait for the geese to cross.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What I lost and what I found.

There's a lot I don't miss about the way my life was before Coronavirus. I don't miss driving.  I don't miss shopping (except at the Goodwill Bins). I don't really even miss socializing. I miss little things, unexpected things. I miss wearing boots. I miss holding our one-year-old baby friend Amal. I miss waiting for Lucia to get off the number 48 at the transit station. I miss seeing her talking, laughing, leaning into one of her friends. I miss her yelling goodbye to them as she gets into the car, reporting to me about her bus ride or the hilarious thing that happened in Chemistry. I miss the natural distance that makes coming back together again sweet and special and welcome.

I cried four times yesterday thinking of that scene-- of Lucia rounding the corner past the entrance of the US Bank on Rainier Avenue. I can see it so clearly-- her smile, her comfortable carriage, so familiar with every aspect of every movement,  knowing that she'll be right back at that same bus stop with the same friends the next day.

Why does that specific image give me such intense longing? I long for that feeling of coming together after being apart. This natural rhythm of moving apart and coming back together is the action that polishes the stones on the footpath from childhood to young adulthood. Each time our children brave the big, open world, they experience tiny, manageable moments of insecurity and fear. And then they come home to their parent(s), to the reassurance that they can rest in that home ground of childhood and safety again. That experience-- Lucia, out in the world, her own person, in lockstep with her friends, deeply satisfied with these new relationships, but still needing me just a little bit-- doesn't happen these days. There's nowhere to go. No friends to see. No adventures to have.  I miss the natural separation and coming together, that sweet spot of reconnection and appreciation that we used to have. I miss it for myself and I miss it for Lucia. I remember those teenage years when I tried on independence and then came home and shored myself up for another round the next day. I want that for Lucia and her friends. I want the big open world to be their playground again.

I have faith. I know that the world will open up again. We'll go back to "normal" and I'll long for the days when Lucia was close in and safe all the time. It's human nature, to long for what we do not have. But in the absence of the old, there is space to find something new. When I stop longing for what once was and step into what is true right now, I can see clearly that there are things happening now that would not have been possible before. Lucia and her peers are building a different kind of resilience right now. They are being called to figure out their autonomy in different ways-- managing their own school work in the absence of in-person teachers and classmates, finding ways to move their bodies alone instead of with their teams. They are being forced to both spend time with and create space from their parents, discovering the strength in their own voices as they ask for what they need. They are inventing new ways to connect with their friends and entertain themselves.

I miss those tender, predictable moments at the bus stop. But, as I make room for these new daily rituals, as I appreciate them for what they are, I can see that when they're gone, I'll miss them too.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Thank Your Kind Stranger

Dear whomever made these beautiful mandalas on the sidewalk,

Thank you for your creativity.
Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for your generosity.
Thank you for your vision to bring nature into a new expression of beauty.
Thank you for enlivening my walk with something exciting and connecting and heartfelt.
Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with the world.
Love, Laura

My teacher Astrid has guided me to "teach what I know." I take this message to mean, share what I love, be who I am. This wisdom has taken me from a place of feeling like an imposter in the world to feeling like I have a home within myself, and therefore within the world.

When I saw these mandalas this morning they reminded me of the potency of that message in my life-- how it shows up again and again to remind me that I cannot try to be someone I am not. The clothes I wear, the job I have, the house I live in-- none of it can make me someone I am not. I am, and we all are unique expressions of life. This time of Coronavirus is my invitation into quiet contemplation to delve deeper into who I am, what I know, and what I love.

Surrounding these mandalas on my walk this morning were cherry blossoms, ferns,  cormorants, dozens of geese and mallards and a beaver.  These natural creations are so free. The beaver, a neighborhood wonder these days, doesn't think about what any of us passersby are thinking as he gnaws on his log. The cherry blossoms do not tame their beauty so the other, less fancy trees feel better about themselves. The geese poop everywhere, not a care in the world who they bug or how their potty habits make them look. All of these natural beings are simply who they are. They don't entertain the baggage that humans spend so much time thinking about. They are open and present and here, simply being a part of the world. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I walked by these creations today I had memories of my time in India. There were exquisite creations like this all over the place there. In India these designs are called Rangoli and they are meant to encourage strength, generosity and good luck. The times I've been in India I have felt a quieting down similar to how I feel now in isolation. In India, on retreat, I was far away, out of contact with many people I love, but connected to a spiritual exploration of myself and the world I inhabit.

I couldn't go to India this year. I was sad to miss that sacred time on retreat, time to close out the chatter of the outside world and get closer to my connection to myself and the state of simply being a part of the world, like the birds and the trees. The mandalas this morning were a clear message to me. This connecting is happening all over the place, for me and for others. People are sharing what they love just for the sake of it. Those beautiful constructions were not made for a museum or a class assignment or to post on Instagram. They were simply an expression of love by whomever created them. They were that human being's way of sharing the unique expression of who they are with the other beings in the world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Happiness runs in a cir-cue-yar motion



A few days ago my sister-in-law Jenny sent me a video of my 3-year-old nephew playing his grandpa's electric guitar and singing Donovan's "Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion," only he pronounced "circular" "cir-cue-yar." It was cute and brilliant and the chorus of that song has been in my head, on repeat, for two days straight, including pronouncing circular, "cir-cue-yar."

This morning while I walked around Seward Park the musical ear worm was with me. I love the park, especially very early when there aren't too many people there. At 7am this morning, the park was pretty empty and I could sing aloud, repeating over and over, "Happiness runs in a cir-cue-yar motion." I felt happy.

Yesterday was a hard day. I crawled into bed at 2pm and only forced myself out for dinner. I felt a hopeless interminability to my existence. What was the point in planning a new yoga class or writing a new blog? These things that keep me anchored in some sort of structure felt meaningless as I looked into the abyss of the unknown. My attitude sucked and I indulged myself, giving myself permission to feel hopeless for a little while. But the hopelessness made me feel more hopeless, so today when I got up early and set out for a walk, I really wanted a better day.

The park, as always, was beautiful. I had my song and the image of my nephew singing it. The trees, fantastic always, are bursting into their spring foliage right now. Their colors and fragrances are vivid and potent. The massive trees are reaching out to each other, holding branch hands, all dressed up with streamers and confetti, inviting us, the wee walkers and runners and bikers underneath, to celebrate with them.

The park, I realized, is circular. If I didn't turn off the path to go home, I could stay in this circular motion indefinitely. I could stay on this happiness trail forever. And then I understood my despair from yesterday. I was looking for an end point, a definitive moment when "this" would be over and we would go back to life as we knew it. But life, just like happiness, runs in a circular motion. Right now, as we shelter-in-place, pressing pause on almost everything, we are in the dying phase of what we once knew and what we once had. That existence is dying and eventually it will be no more. And as we experience this passing of the old life, we are in the process of being reborn into something different, something better I hope. 

Looking for a moment in time, a date that this process will end, doesn't work with the circular motion. As I walked in my circle, singing my song, it all made sense why I was so miserable yesterday. The full chorus of the Donovan song goes like this:

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself be




"Everybody is a part of everything anyway. You can have everything if you let yourself be." That's the lesson. We're all part of this big circle of life, this big change that's happening to all of us. To cling to an impossible wish to know when this will be over is to not be part of everything. And in doing that, it is creating suffering, it is not letting myself be. I am so grateful to my nephew's musical genius and beautiful spirit and for sharing that song with me. 


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Swaddled

When my daughter Lucia was a baby she loved to be swaddled. From morning to night and all through the night she wanted to be wrapped up like a little burrito, her arms tucked into her chest and her legs folded into her belly. My mom once joked that Lucia's muscles were going to atrophy if she didn't spend some time out of the swaddle.

Being born is our first big struggle. To make this passage, the baby must battle through the birth canal (unless it is a C-section) and put up the fight of their tiny lives to navigate their way out. Then, when they arrive outside, it is overwhelming-- it's bright, loud, and aggressive. No wonder Lucia wanted to be swaddled.

During this time of world disaster I have gone through bouts of extreme worry and anxiety; I've experienced a fear beyond any other in my life. Like most of us, I still fall into despair at times, but I'm aware of something else that's present now, a feeling of calm and even joy that's come from being in the confinement of my home. I am tapped into a sense of comfort in this containment, a relief of sorts. I feel relieved of the stressors that unconsciously plagued me when I roamed free-- the compulsion to be busy and productive, the need to be out in the world socializing, politicizing, shopping, always striving to become someone more successful, secure, happy; always seeking, trying to find meaning in the outside world.

I think of Lucia when she was a baby, of her desire to be swaddled, telling us in her infant way of communicating that she was not quite ready for the bigger world. She needed time in her swaddle, her womb outside of the womb. In this time she was waking into the world at her own pace, slowly integrating the different faces, noises, smells, tastes, sounds, and tactile sensations. And when she was ready to stop being swaddled, she let us know. She resisted being confined. She cried when we tried to restrain her arms and legs. She was ready for the bigger world.

And here we are, all of us now experiencing this world crisis, this grave and significant fear. The way we will survive, we are told, is to stay close, to shelter-in-place, to confine ourselves to whatever space we are living in right now. It's scary out there. If we do not abide the new rules we could become infected or infect someone else, so we do our best to stay inside, wear a mask, follow the guidelines. Lately, for me, the unexpected result of these safety parameters has been comfort, like being swaddled, safely contained. I am surprised at the experience of being genuinely fulfilled by this tiny little world of mine. I am delighted by the inadvertent magic of it all. In this great, crushing time of fear in our lives, we must retreat. We must make our worlds smaller, and we must get quieter. In doing this shuttering of the outside world we are deepening our connection to ourselves and finding meaning within.

I believe that the world will come back to being a more interactive place. We will have opportunities to engage with other people and explore new places. We will hug again and share meals.  But right now I want to relish my time here in this swaddle, to hunker down in the quiet. I want to fill my cup with what's already here, with the internal messengers I did not make room for before. This is an opportunity to be in connection with a part of me that gets lost when I am tapped more into the outside world, looking to fill my cup from those external sources.

My hope is that when we all emerge from these millions of little swaddles all around the world, we will each have had time and space to fill our cups from inside of ourselves. I imagine that we will all have stronger, deeper connections to ourselves,  but also to our purpose and place in the world, and that we will unfurl this newly discovered strength and resilience out into the wide open spaces and celebrate a new beginning together.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sometimes letting go is the best plan.

In response to Seattle Public Schools closing for the year, I've made the decision to basically let my fifteen-year-old daughter self-manage.  For her whole life Lucia has been a straight-A student. She's conscientious and aware and I don't want to spend the next three months in a power struggle with my daughter. We're in a fucking pandemic and she, like the rest of us, is just trying to get through this madness with no social life or normal teenage activities. Yet I find myself riding Lucia all the time. I am compelled, some might even say possessed to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks, that every teacher email is read, assignment completed, virtual soccer workout done. My controlling tendencies are making both Lucia and my partner Nancy crazy.

I try. I really try to silence my impulse to ask how many minutes Lucia has read or to peek in her room to see what she's up to, but there's a beast inside of me, desperate to stay on course, even though I don't really know what course that is. The beast, it turns out is my own inner teenager. The other day I was having Zoom therapy and my therapist Carol, a wonderful, wise 80-year-old woman asked me why, when I really didn't have cause, did I push Lucia so much about school. When Carol put this question to me, an image of me, age sixteen came into my mind.

Here's the scene: I am sixteen-years-old, a senior in high school, sitting at my dining room table with my classmate Heather Larkin, pouring over a physics textbook in preparation for a test. My twin sister and my friends march through the dining room towards the front door to go hang out at the statue on the midway with a bunch of boy seniors. They look at me, rolling their eyes, stopping just short of flashing the "L" sign on their foreheads. I was the only one of my friends who insisted on taking four years of science and they all thought I was dumb for torturing myself. The truth is, I never got physics. I was in a constant struggle the entire year I took physics.

Because physics did not come easily to me, I dug in and tried to master the completely illogical content by working harder and more. I was desperate to find some kind of understanding. In my teenage brain I had no choice. I'd already met my science requirements and I could have dropped physics and been okay, but the very idea of letting it go was impossible to me. So I made myself miserable. On my midterm I got a 3 out of 100. And that was after studying for hours and days.

There are a lot of unknowns in our children's education right now. There are dozens of emails and voicemails and texts telling parents and kids what to do and how to do it. I can't really make sense of it, yet I expect my daughter, much less experienced in project management than I am, to master her own self-education for an entire a semester of high school. I expect her to take on this educational fiasco like I took on physics. And the truth is, it's a shit show, just like physics was a shit show for me. So when Carol asked me why I was pushing Lucia so hard, that inner teenager came back. "You can't stop" she was telling me (and by proxy Lucia). "You can't surrender to the hugeness of it. Just keep working. Keep trying." In the end I barely passed physics and I made myself completely miserable for an entire year.

I'm working on taming this inner teenager. I want to save my poor daughter from her. I don't know what will happen this year, what kind of education our kids will get, but I know I can't control it. My plan to control every aspect of the plan is not a good plan. I wish someone had told me all those years ago that I'd be okay without physics. I still feel that girl---the one who tried relentlessly to master physics--- showing up and trying to make Lucia take that same path. That inner teenager is stubborn and persistent. But the truth is, I really am fine not understanding physics and Lucia will be fine too, no matter what happens for the rest of this stupid school year.

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!

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A few weeks ago I started adding the phrase, "with Corona on top" when talking about hard things. Anything challenging--- sickness...