Friday, April 3, 2020

From my hands to your face!

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Boy in the Iron Maiden Jacket


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

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

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

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

Friday, March 27, 2020

On being a mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

With friends like these.....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Who's in charge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 22, 2020

What our hands might be telling us.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Lessons from the Lemon Tree

We have a ten-year-old lemon tree in our living room that has been prolific for the last few years. She has seemed so happy. In the summer we wheel her outside and when it freezes we bring her back in to sit by the patio windows. At her peak she had a full Meyer lemon and nine little babies on their way. In the last few weeks she seems to be suffering. Her leaves are yellow and she just seems sad. We have a lot of plants in our house and my partner Nancy is a doting caretaker. When one plant seems to be suffering she'll move it near a plant that is thriving, kind of like a healing babysitter. I'm wondering if we need to wheel the lemon tree toward a friend.

The lemon tree makes me think about the little potted plant in the movie ET. When ET was on his last legs, literally dying, we watched the plant dying along with him. I remember it so vividly, the fading glow of ET's heart and the wilting leaves on the plant. ET's little soul was intricately connected to the plant's. We watched ET, and the plant, come back to health as ET's alien family came closer and closer to earth to bring him home. I was thirteen the year ET came out and I could have watched it one hundred times. I loved that movie.

Is our lemon tree mirroring what's in our hearts right now? Is she responding to what is happening in our home, but also in our universe? I woke up this morning slowly remembering what reality looks like, piecing together what my day and week and months ahead will look like. I wonder if we, like ET, are finding our way back home in some kind of scary, tragic, convoluted way. I wonder if the slowing down, hibernating new daily routine many of us are in is actually healing us beyond simply not contracting and spreading Covid-19.

Sometimes I imagine the ripple effects of this slowing down-- in our house and our neighbor's house and in all the houses on our block and neighborhood and city and state and country and universe. In trying to protect ourselves and our neighbors and all the people beyond, it is as if we are creating a giant lullaby for the planet. I envision us all becoming a little bit quieter, breathing a little bit more deeply and slowly, thinking a bit more before we take actions, simplifying the activities in our lives, and it feels like we are gently cradling the earth, together, finally realizing that we have to hold her more carefully, more thoughtfully.

Even without all of the environmental benefits of this collective slowing down, I feel like the different energy coming from this new normal is a salve on the planet. In this new normal we play games with our teenagers. We forgive each other more readily. We bring food to our neighbors. We FaceTime our family and friends for no special occasion. We dress up for dinner because, why not? We go on walks. We water color. We create new recipes. We consider how hard this must be for her or him or them. We learn new songs on the piano. We play ridiculous games with the dog. We try to keep our brains sharp by reading a little bit each day. We are so easily grateful for what we have and for each other. We pray every day in our own way that this will be over one day and, on the other side the world will be a kinder, more gentle place for everyone. 

Maybe the lemon tree will turn around. Maybe her leaves will stop yellowing and she will get happy again. Or maybe she will stay on this path for a while, struggling, tired, gathering what she can from her roots and her leaves, doing the best she can.  Maybe, like us, she is hibernating a little bit, shutting down, regrouping, preparing for what's next. Maybe in a few months the lemon tree will look different.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Alone Time

Last night at dinner we had a family conversation about how to structure these upcoming days and weeks ahead. Over the weekend we'd all been contemplating the variety of activities that would be important to include in each day. I think this social isolation has been the most challenging for my fifteen-year-old daughter. Not seeing friends and being limited so extremely is antithetical to what it means to be an adolescent. This is her time. Her friends (not her parents) are her people. As we reviewed what activities to include each day my partner Nancy, looking at Lucia's downtrodden eyes, said, "Alone time. It will be important for each of us to have some alone time every day."

I'm so sad about how this unprecedented time in our history is affecting everyone, but my heart hurts most for my daughter and her peers. This is a hard time to be a teenager. Last night I woke up at 3am filled with angst. I usually sleep soundly through the night, and if I wake up I go right back to sleep but last night I got stuck in my grief. Lucia, already craving some space and alone time was sleeping two floors down in our basement guest room. Her empty bed in the room across the hall was a stark reminder of how this global crisis is hitting my daughter.

These days, this time of voluntary isolation for the greater human good, is forcing us into being alone-- alone together but also alone with ourselves, a space many of us don't take or make room for on a daily basis.  My favorite poet, David Whyte, in an essay called Alone in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, writes "To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others. Alone, we live in our bodies as a question rather than a statement."  

Last night when I was awake I felt this aloneness, even with Nancy asleep right next to me and Lucia safe and sound downstairs. I felt an extreme vulnerability, like I was free-falling into the fear of these unknown times. It really is like living in 'a question,' this absence of knowing what's next.  Further on in the same essay Whyte writes, "Aloneness begins in puzzlement at our own reflection, transits through awkwardness and even ugliness at what we see, and culminates, one appointed hour or day, in a beautiful unlooked for surprise, at the new complexion beginning to form, the slow knitting together of an inner life, now exposed to air and light." 

This unknowing is scary for all of us and it affects the young and old in different ways, but Whyte's words give me comfort. There is a deeper place, maybe even a surprise beyond and within this alone-ness. Today is my family's first day trying out our new schedules. We'll each work on piecing together a puzzle of normalcy in this inconceivable new reality. We're all in this together. And Alone.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

An ode to the grocery store clerk

I've been to the PCC no fewer than nine times in the last two weeks. I've also made stops at QFC, Bartell's, Trader Joe's and Walgreens. Though I try to restrain myself on each visit, I am aware that there is an element of desperation in every trip.

I am familiar and friendly with the staff at my neighborhood PCC, the grocery store I visit most frequently. Over the last few weeks I've noticed how incredibly tired they all look. The lines are longer than during pre-snow-storm days and there are no breaks. The store is always busy. There is constant stocking and preparing and bagging and cleaning.

Yesterday I went early, before 7:30am, hoping for a quiet moment in the store, but it was already buzzing. My checkout clerk already seemed fried. I asked him how he was doing and he gave me a look saying, "what the fuck? when will this end? how did we get here?" and I gave him the same look back, nodding as I bagged my groceries.

It was after I left the store, feeling just that much more calm, a little bit more prepared for whatever I need to bake or cook or clean or treat, that I realized that these checkout clerks are a little bit like therapists. They hold the energy of all of these people who are in their store to derive some sort of comfort. We go to the PCC to get our ducks in a row-- to fill our bags, restock our supplements, treat ourselves to something from the deli-- and we leave feeling a little bit better than when we walked in.

These clerks and baggers and stockers and cooks and cleaners who work at the PCC and other stores like it, are giving us an incredible service. They are patiently, lovingly taking care of us during this time when they themselves must also be scared and worried and confused about the future.

I just want to say thank you. I am truly grateful for your service.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Better Angels of Our Nature


One of the things I inherited from my grandmother Sally is weepy eyes and a constantly runny nose when the weather is cold. For about ten months out of every year I keep a hanky in my sleeve or my coat pocket. Whenever I am outside I dab my nose and my eyes constantly. 

Today when I was walking around Seward Park which I do as often as I can, I pulled out my hanky to blow my nose and a man walking towards me crossed clearly to the other side of the path. I don't blame him. The culture that has evolved with Coronavirus is worrisome to some and completely paralyzing to others. I fall intermittently somewhere in between, but mostly towards paralysis. I realize that these years of living in a country run by a man who disregards our environment and humanity in so many ways has taken a toll on me. COVID-19 seems to be what has tipped me over the edge. I worry about people I love. I worry about the mentally ill homeless man I walk by on Capitol Hill. I worry about my old parents and your old parents and my friends who have auto-immune diseases.


In a podcast I was listening to during my walk today I heard the phrase "the better angels of our nature" and it made me think about what my better angels are. I always connect with people at the park-- I say hi, wave, smile, share appreciation for a heron or an eagle. I love Seward Park and the people there. I love the trees and the birds and the turtles. But I was aware today how, though I did smile and nod or wave to different people, there was also a pallor of despair, like a persistent grey cloud, stalking me.


My worry and occasional paralysis from events of recent days and weeks has muted my better angels. When the man crossed away from me on the path,  I totally understood why he did that, but it got me thinking about what micro-actions like these do to us over a sustained period of time. We are all doing them. The news is telling us to steer clear of each other, to stay home, to worry. And yes, we have to worry, but this constant state of mental-emotional hijack is unsustainable. It's unsustainable for me and I fear it is unsustainable for our society. 


When I got home I looked up "the better angels of our nature" and learned that this phrase was used by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address. Renowned psychologist Steven Pinker wrote a book with that same title and uses the phrase as a metaphor for four human motivations — empathy, self-control, the "moral sense," and reason. (1) We tend to lose focus, especially in times like these, of the innate goodness of ourselves and each other, and how could we not? My daughter was informed that she is no longer supposed to high five the opposing team after games. People in the drug store are competing for the ingredients to make DIY hand sanitizer. 


What do I want? I want to feel calm again. I want to come back to connecting with empathy, self-control, moral sense and reason. Where do we turn when the majority of people in our midst are suffering from the same anxieties and fears? The only thing that makes sense is to turn outwards instead of inwards. We can still stay safe. We can still follow the CDC recommendations, but we can find ways to connect. Share food with your neighbors. Don't buy twelve rolls of toilet paper. Check in on your friends who live alone. Tell your kids to be kind to their classmates.



And helping actually helps. Yesterday when I was walking up Madison I watched a man in a wheelchair ask a guy to help him cross potholed Ninth Avenue and the guy rushed by, shaking his head "no". As I crossed, I knew the man would ask me too. I contemplated what it would mean to put my bare palms on his wheelchair handles, but then I did it anyway. I pushed him across the street, got him up the curb and turned back up the hill. I made an effort to keep my hands away from my face until I could wash them again. But for that moment after helping that man I wasn't worrying. I was connecting with one of the better angels of my nature and I felt like everything would be okay.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Yin and Yang

A few weeks ago I flew down to Phoenix to spend time with my mother and stepfather. My mother is seventy-nine and my stepfather Al is ninety-two. My mom takes care of pretty much everything-- the meals, the house, the bills, the finances, the travel arrangements, communication with family and care givers. She's got a ton of energy and she's very connected. She rivals my fifteen-year-old daughter for time on her cell phone. She's always in touch with someone or researching something or getting directions on her phone.

My stepfather, on the other hand, was too old to take on a smart phone when the technology burst onto the scene. At ninety-two Al is in good shape. Though he no longer drives, he still plays bridge once or twice a week and is pretty mentally lucid. During my week visiting them I was aware of how their little universe functioned. Mom buzzed about cooking, cleaning, typing away on her laptop or cell phone, going to the gym, taking care of her houseguests (me and my daughter Lucia).  While mom was always up when I woke (early), Al slept later. He rose and dressed slowly and then took his time walking with the help of his walker or cane from the end of the house where the bedroom was to the other end of the house where he spent most of his time, in his study.  Mom spurred Al along to eat, get dressed, take his meds, and Al offered Mom the invitation to slow down and be at rest. Though I could tell it was challenging for her at times, I noticed that Mom sat longer at the table at meals,  patiently waited for Al to make his way down the hall, allotted more time to get into and out of the car. 

Al would eat his breakfast of yogurt and granola that my mom made and set in front of him, watch some news, and tinker at his desk. Sometimes he fell asleep for five or ten minutes sitting on the couch or in his chair at the dining room table. One afternoon after lunch on the patio, Lucia and my mom went out the garage to finish an art project they were working on. I said I'd clean up but Al struck up a conversation and I ended up sitting at the patio table with him for over an hour. I had the itch to get up and go into the house to do the dishes so that my mother wouldn't have to do them when she came back in, but something told me not to.

Al and I sat there, mostly in quiet, looking over the landscape of Saguaros, Chollas and Ocotillos. The multiple bird feeders on the patio hosted cardinals, cactus wren, Gambel's quail and curved-billed thrashers. Every once in a while I would ask Al what kind of bird was feeding or Al would ask me a question, something about what I was doing in my life these days or our plans for the rest of the day. A few times he fell asleep. But as quietly as he fell asleep he woke up again and resumed our conversation. After an hour or so Mom came in, walking her efficient, determined walk, to check on us. It was a natural moment to transition-- me to the dishes and Al back to his study. But the stillness and silence I felt from sitting with Al stayed with me.

I've thought about that time with Mom and Al a lot-- how this complex system of energies balances their lives. Mom is the Yang to Al's Yin and vice versa. The symbiosis of their energies makes their life as a couple possible. It's a reminder to me that we all need both. Maybe our partner or our kids or our co-worker offers some Yin to our Yang. Maybe we need a little Yang to fire things up and we find it through another person, animal or place. The point is that we all need both the Yin and the Yang energies to be in balance. And though we might weigh more heavily in one area, both the Yin and Yang energies live within each of us.

Being more Yang myself, I appreciated the experience of sitting with Al, this quiet force of stillness. And I appreciated that Mom kept his quiet world spinning with her gale force energy. My time sitting with Al that week helped me connect with my Yin energy a little bit. Al, at ninety-two, embodies the authentic grace that comes from slowing down and the end of a very long life. I feel grateful to have had that special, enlightening time with him. I hope the feeling stays with me for a while.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Road Home


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Last night terrible cramps wove their way into my dreams. I'm one of those annoying women who says, "I've never had menstrual cramps," so I didn't fully understand what they were until I woke up. When I was giving birth to my daughter Lucia fifteen years ago, the midwife asked if I was having contractions. Having never given birth before I asked her what they felt like. She said they felt like menstrual cramps. I explained to her that I'd never experienced menstrual cramps so couldn't identify if I was indeed having contractions. But now, at age 51, I know what cramps feel like. Cramps are intense. They do indeed remind me of being in labor.

In the last few years contemplating my own aging, I have become compelled to understand more about menopause, both for myself and for other women. In doing this exploration I have learned a lot about the broader implications of aging for women, in particular the stigma and shame associated with the very process of menopause. Many women my age have no one to query about what her mother's menopause was like because so many of our mothers had hysterectomies. It seemed that twenty years ago, and still today, the medical response to this change in life has been to just take out those confusing female organs.

In my research of both scientific data and personal accounts of menopause, I have generated a working theory that there is a mirror-like symmetry between pre-puberty and post-fertility (aka menopause). Physiologically, both pre-puberty and post-fertility are times when we have lower estrogen levels. Emotionally and mentally, in the time before puberty--when we are little girls-- we are playful, unselfconscious and more authentically true to ourselves. Pre-puberty, girls operate from an internal compass. Once girls enter puberty they begin the long journey of a life in which they are assessed and evaluated on their performance and appearance. Puberty launches girls into periods and cramps and dating and parenthood and peer pressure and social media and media objectification. It is exhausting and unrelenting. 

Then, in middle age, the time when our fertile window has closed, women come back to a stage more similar to our pre-pubescent selves. There is a decrease in estrogen, a slowing down, an opportunity to settle back into our true nature of childhood. This beautiful hormonal symmetry offers women in menopause a chance to re-meet this playful, unselfconscious self; we come home to our true nature again.

I don't know if the  cramps will come again next month or if the cramps will be replaced with hot flashes tomorrow or next month. Maybe I'll have both. I'm prepared for whatever comes because I know, whatever it is, I'm on the road home again. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

New Cleats and Chanting

Last week I took my fifteen-year-old daughter to Dick's Sporting Goods to get new cleats. We'd been trying to find a spare hour to go to the mall in Renton for weeks and finally eked one out on a dreary rainy afternoon, between piano and dinner. It had been a shitty day already. I'd heard ten too many sound bites from Donald Trump on the radio and I was convinced, beyond measure, that his message of selfishness, laziness and stupidity was permeating the brain membranes of sane people everywhere, like the strange force that made people lose their minds in Sandra Bullock's movie Bird Box.

Dick's Sporting Goods is like Costco for sporty stuff. It's huge and echoey and I swear ghosts work there. Whenever I tried to get someone to help us they would miraculously disappear behind a rack or through a door. When I finally found someone and asked where the bathroom was because I just needed a moment to splash water on my hot flashing face, they told me where it was. After walking across the store I found the bathroom but there was a code on the door and the guy hadn't given me the code, so I walked back to try to find another ghost who might have the code. My patience, thin before entering the toxic vortex of vinyl and lycra, was almost non-existent by this point. I kept thinking, "This is the Donald Trump influence. People are selfish and lazy and stupid!"

Among all of the hundreds of boxes of cleats, none organized by size or style or even brand, Lucia finally found a pair in her size for an affordable price. We walked the block back to the register where the clerk told us the shoes would be $103. "The display said $49.99" I told him, feeling very close to punching him like a mob boss might punch an underling in Good Fellas, square in the nose with one sharp "Pop" and he'd be down. We'd just take the shoes and walk slowly to our car. I imagined the whole scene in my mind. But I didn't punch Joshua the clerk. We returned to the cleats and found three pair that might work. We walked back up to have a different clerk scan each of them to make sure they were indeed the price marked. Lucia chose a pair, I paid, and we walked out.

It was still dark. Still raining. I was starving and pumping with adrenaline. When we got in the car Lucia looked at me, very concerned. "Mommy, are you okay?" "I'm fine." I replied. "I'm just glad that's over with." But she could feel it, my rage, my fury. I'm sure to her it felt like I was about to blow. And then who would drive us home?

We drove through the packed parking lot, past the gargantuan store for all things for your pets. Past the half-block store with make ups and creams, past the health club and all the slow-fast food restaurants. When we got to Boeing field, right before Rainier Avenue South, Lucia started chanting. First she chanted Om Namah Shivaya, a chant I used to play when I taught kids' yoga at her school and my studio. I joined in, happy to be putting my energy outside of my seemingly stuck negativity. Lucia moved on to a Chakra balancing chant that I taught her a few years ago when I came home from my first trip to India. We chanted the whole way home, a good half-hour drive. We harmonized. We took turns leading. As we moved geographically away from Dick's Sporting Goods, my mind moved too, into balance, harmony and even joy.

When we drove into the driveway it was still raining. I could hear the dog barking for us to come in. As I pushed the parking brake into place I looked at Lucia, "That was so nice. Thank you." I said to her. "I thought it would calm you down," replied my teenage daughter, smiling, I think with relief that I was no longer insane. How did she know that would help? I'm not sure, but I'm so grateful for her insight on that dark, rainy, politically-depressing night. Thank you Lucia.

Monday, February 3, 2020

In my dreams.


This morning when I woke up I knew that I'd had a very deep sleep, the kind that is often filled with dreams. I lay in bed for a bit to try to get my dreams to come back and when I finally remembered, I became aware that I'd spent the whole night with my Nana. Nana has been dead for almost twenty-five years but when she was alive she was my favorite, and I felt (as did my sisters) that I was her favorite too. I know now in adulthood that what I got from my Nana in childhood was the experience of belonging, of feeling at home, truly, deeply loved for exactly who I was.

In my dream Nana knew her time on earth was coming to an end. She told my sisters and me to take the Christmas tree down and bring it to the basement garbage area of her high rise building. As my sister Katherine and I upended the tree to bring it to the elevator, we could see that the tree still had tons of ornaments that we recognized as sentimental and special. We surreptitiously put the ornaments in our pockets and took the tree down the fourteen floors to the basement. This beginning of my dream made sense to me even though Nana was Jewish and never had a Christmas tree.

When my sister and I got back up to Nana's apartment it seemed that Nana had already passed. Her things were all laid out--- clothes, shoes, jewelry, books. It was like a big, free garage sale. My two sisters and I were wandering around putting things on that Nana had worn. There were other people too who were taking things and trying them on. If they saw me or one of my sisters looking at the item, they would hand it to us and say, "You take it. She was your grandmother." It was civilized and sweet.

When I got out of bed after remembering last night's dream I came downstairs to my desk to write about it and see if more thoughts or feelings came. They did. As I recalled the dream, I also recalled Nana's face, clear as if she were right in front of me, smiling like she did as her three ragamuffin granddaughters came up to 14A ready for a snack or a diet root beer with milk (her specialty). We'd exit into her little lobby and there she'd be, standing with arms wide, smiling big behind her Ray Bans. She'd take us, one by one, into a full, long hug and send us to the kitchen to raid the fridge.

I know that my Nana had a very difficult relationship with many members of her family. Some people found her cold and judgmental. For whatever reason she wasn't this way with my sisters or with me. She gave us a gift, the blessing of feeling deeply loved and accepted for who we were. I don't know enough about how the subconscious works to understand the timing of Nana coming to me in my dreams last night. But I know enough to understand that dreams like this should be listened to and contemplated. I'm taking last night's dream as a reminder to stay true to who I am, to remember that no matter how unmoored I might feel at different times in my life, I can touch back into that memory of Nana-- the warm, smiling eyes and full, long hug.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Party-Style Twists


Last week I wore my hair down with two twists, one on each side of my middle part. Because of my cowlick, I couldn't get the twists even, but I wore them anyway. When I was a kid we called this "party style." I rarely wear my hair down. It makes me feel young, somehow not myself. That night I chose this style to disguise my incoming gray hair. Maybe it was a subconscious move to try to create youth in the midst of inevitable aging.

Since wearing my hair in twists that night I've had a series of random memories from when I was a girl. I remember in fourth grade, Ms. Funk's class at William H. Ray Elementary in Chicago. It was picture day and I'd decided on my burgundy v-neck velour shirt with juliet sleeves. It was one of my nicest shirts and I had begged my mother to buy it for me at the tiny Breslauer's Department Store on 53rd Street.  I was obsessed with my hair that morning, desperate to get my two twists to match. I wanted my long brown hair to cascade down from the perfectly matched twists that crowned my head like a princess. But I didn't have the right supplies. I needed bobby pins and all I had were mismatched barrettes and rubber bands.

That same obsession for the perfect twists has recently replayed itself in my memory. I don't know if it was the same year, but in my mind's eye, I am about the same age. It was my grandfather's birthday party and we were all to get dressed up. I had a red and white seersucker blouse and skirt that my grandmother had splurged on at Saks Fifth Avenue downtown. It was perfect. But my hair! I remember standing in front of the living room mirror with my sisters and cousins, five girls all primping, and I could not get the twists to work. "I need bobby pins!," I howled to no one in particular, and before I knew it my dad was out the door to the Wilco to get a package big enough for five heads of hair.

I don't know why certain memories stick in our minds and I don't know why they revisit us at certain times in life, but the prominence of these two hair-twist memories feels like something worth attending to. One of the things that happens in middle age, in part because of hormones, and in part because of earned wisdom from life experience, is that we come back to our true nature, that essence of self that can become buried during the twenties and thirties when other big life events take center stage.

I'm grateful for the clarity and potency of these memories. In middle-age there is a quieting, a slowing down that makes room for that essential nature to resurface, like coming out of the rubble after an earthquake, there is a peacefulness, a stillness. Maybe these memories are a sign to me, a message from fourth-grade Laura, that this is time to come back and revisit that energy from my younger self. Or maybe these hair-twist memories are here now to show me how much I've learned, how far I've come from that place where a botched hair style was a national disaster. Now I know it's just a pesky cowlick.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Interiority


I remember when I transferred from Chicago Public Schools to a private prep school in seventh grade. My parents, at their wits end from the constant striking of Chicago Public Schools in the late 1970s, finally abandoned ship. At my new school, during Language Arts one afternoon, the teacher, a stark, tight-mouthed woman with a faux British accent, asked us to write down one word that we didn't know from the book we were reading (I think it was Catcher in the Rye.) The word I chose was "wholly." After class the teacher, having never spent time with kids who'd been educated in a shitty school, pulled me aside and asked, "Laura, do you really not know what 'wholly' means?" She then explained that it was the adverb form of whole. I got it. It made sense. I'd simply never heard that word before.

Right now I'm in the middle of an amazing book, The Yellow House, by Sarah Broom. It's a memoir of Broom's life growing up in New Orleans East in a family of eleven siblings. New Orleans East is a sorely neglected part of New Orleans that has been under-attended or ignored since the 1970s. I have been to New Orleans at least ten times and I only recently heard about New Orleans East from a Lyft driver the last time I was there. I bought Broom's book for my partner Nancy who was born and raised in New Orleans but spent little time in New Orleans East which is, in fact the largest section of the City of New Orleans.

At one point during the book, Broom compares being in her chaotic school in New Orleans East to "an unpredictable, malfunctioning parts factory. You can never tell when a piece will fly off, hitting you in the face, blinding you for life." Shortly after, Broom transfers to a private school outside of her neighborhood where she is, in many ways an outsider, but also connects with a teacher who inspires and nurtures Broom's own love of words. Broom writes, "Writing, I found, was my interiority, and so was God." Later in the chapter Broom describes how speaking in tongues is interiority writ large, "You had to do it without shame, with no self-consciousness whatsoever. The only control was in letting go."

 'Interiority' is a word that I've never heard spoken or seen written, but it was a word I immediately connected with. 'Interiority,' I thought, as I read it in the context of Broom's writing, must be a magical place, a deeply personal and important retreat, a place where one can be wholly oneself. So I looked it up. Interiority: interior life or character; inner life or substance; psychological existence. 

Sometimes there is a point to my blog, and other times I'm just meandering. Today I am inspired by Sarah Broom, by her writing, and by the joy of learning a new word, a wonderful word at the ripe old age of fifty-one. The very concept of interiority gives me so much to think about-- what is my own interiority? What was it when I was a child? How do I help my own daughter find her's? Sarah Broom-- your book is feeding my soul right now and I am very grateful that you've shared your beautiful story.


From my hands to your face!

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