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...