Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The wind moves through the tree, touching every needle. Branches wave. Even the trunk gently sways, creaking. The whole shape undulates.
But even standing in the relentless current of strong gusts, the tree does not topple. It is balanced: below to above. A crisscrossing network of hidden roots anchors trunk to earth.
And roots don't just stabilize: they nourish. Stable and quenched, the tree reaches for the sun, plucking energy from the sky.
Depth balances height. Stability grants life. Height yields strength.
I always wake before the kids. Before Ruthie was born, I used this time to practice yoga. Start the day out right.
But during Ruthie's newborn days, I began using my morning time to work – I just couldn't sit down at the computer after a day of bouncing a crying baby. At 9 or 10 pm, when she was finally asleep for the night, I needed to unwind and crash. This pattern stuck, and when she began developing an earlier, more predictable bedtime, I used those unwinding hours to write, practice yoga, or hang out with John.
But recently, I've found it a great struggle to rise early and work at my computer.
I get up, stumble toward my coffee, and eat breakfast. After wasting time surfing the internet, I start my work…but inevitably I complete little before the kids awaken. I wake up early "for nothing," it often seems. So I arrive at the end of the day with depleted energy and no motivation. I can only find fulfillment curling up on the couch.
I'm neglecting my thirst-quenching, stabilizing depths. And though I'm not withered or toppled yet, I can predict my own fall. I know this about myself: I seek – I crave – I love – I require balance. And I know what happens without it.
So I'm flipping my day on end.
I'm returning to a morning yoga practice to feed my roots so that when life gusts, I feel affected but standing.
This is preventative medicine.
Are you balanced? If not, can you rearrange something in your day so that you're feeding your depths?
Posted by sarah at 7:52 AM
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Title: She Always Said
Feed the desem.
That's it. That's all it says.
In her familiar, scrawling hand like a voice from beyond the veil.
My inheritance. I have no idea.
Dad and Jimmy empty her house. I don't go. Boxes stand where the sofa should; pictures off the walls. It would be just like the wake – visiting an empty shell, saying goodbye.
Tonight Dad shakes my shoulder when he gets home. I found something you should keep. He holds it out to me. Blue pottery. Heavy in my hands.
The Rising Bowl.
It's midnight when I flip the switch in Marmie's kitchen. The owl faceplate stares at me with unblinking eyes. Welcome home. They barely started on the kitchen – a few boxes filled, the last push before they gave in to night and sleep and grief.
I open all the cupboards. Let them stand open. Cream of Wheat. The potato ricer. Corningware. Old friends, witnesses.
I pile necessities on the table. Flour and salt. Measuring things. The Raising Bowl.
You have to work she always said, pressing into the dough with her long fingers. Kneading brought color to her cheeks. She never needed makeup.
It's delicate she always said, covering the dough ball with a towel, tucking it in safe for the rise.
Now we play she always said, bringing out cards and marbles and paper dolls.
Don't ever punch she always said. No violence around here. Gentle it down. Her cool hand over mine, slowly sinking in.
Now watch she always said. The shaping was hers alone. I was too hasty, too rough, she said. Press into a circle. Fold so it smiles. Bring in the sides. Press flat, now roll up – a loaf.
I always greased the pan, butter in all the corners, licking my fingers.
Into the pan, final rise. She washed the dishes, handing them over to me to dry. The giant Rising Bowl. Mine now. A chip in the rim from when I almost dropped it once. Marmie's cheek against my tears.
Into the oven. She always flicked the light on and we'd watch. Inevitably, I'd skip away. Distracted.
Annie! It sprung! she'd always say. I'd race back into the kitchen, skating in my socks to peer through the oven glass.
Ohhh I'd always breathe. The high arc just turning golden. And the magic A slashed into the crust – she never forgot.
But I'm forgetting something.
All those years on the west coast. The sun will fry your brain she always said. When I visited at Christmas there was never time to bake bread.
Now I'm here in Marmie's kitchen, without her, up all night, wasting flour trying to resuscitate a dead recipe, grasping straws and sticky dough. It doesn't rise.
I open the fridge looking for a beer – habit, of course. I know Marmie hated the stuff.
The shelves aren't totally bare: a quarter gallon of milk post-date by now, strawberry jam, cottage cheese. She was on her way to the grocery store when it happened. Her car. A tree. Dead at the scene.
And there on the top shelf a clear glass mason jar. A carefully shrouded lump resting inside. A scotch-taped label: Desem.
I sit on the cold tile floor. Unscrew the cap. A sour, fermenting smell hits me in the face. Overpowering. But familiar. And still alive.
Daaay-zum she always said. It sounds different than it looks.
The bread rises this time.
Posted by sarah at 9:35 PM
Friday, March 26, 2010
Okay I haven't started my book yet. I haven't lifted a finger to it since I threw my intentions into the winds of the universe.
I think this is because I'm deeply afraid of it. Of the writing of it.
Well that and the cracks in my day that sometimes facilitate thinking and writing have been shifting around a lot lately. Predictability satisfies me. Shiftiness does not.
But the real problem lies in the fact that I've never written fiction before. Never. Oh wait, except for The Pencil Who Wanted a Name Back in the 5th grade. And if my current fiction skills hold a candle to that attempt, I'm not going to get very far.
So far, my writing has been essay-style, personal. About myself and my experiences. Which is fine and fulfilling and me.
But I have this potential story in my head, which I think I've nailed down into a rough plot that might actually work, but I'm afraid that when I start writing the first page, or maybe after I've written a bunch of pages, I'll discover that my story is really a dead end and my fiction just plain sucks.
Yes, it's the old fear of failure bubbling up again. When I was a child, I would reaffix the sticker on my test to cover up the grade if it was anything less than perfect. I've been fearing non-perfection for a long time. My whole life, basically. So I'm experienced in the nuances of this particular fear. But not really with how to overcome it.
I am also astonishingly good at comparing myself to others. So I read a great novel or poke around in the blog world and I start to think: wait a minute—I'm not one of them. I'm just me. Very small me. I can't call myself a writer. I can't call myself a thinker. I can't possibly be so egotistical to think that anything I write will be worth reading. I'm just a girl (ack, turning into a MATURE WOMAN, almost 30, almost old, still not started) with a passion for words and their construction and artful expression. I have three kids circling me at all times like cartoon birds that pop up when the character hits her head. So I write stagnantedly, stop-startingly, excruciatingly slowly, if at all. Then I stare at my meager words skipping across the screen like stepping stones strewn across a river and wonder—is there a point here? Where am I going with this? Is there even something on the other side?
I don't need reassurance. I don't need hand-holding. I just need to buck up and write. Breathe through the labor pains and deliver that fear. Hold it, look it in the eyes, claim it as my own, pour my milk down its throat and watch it grow into something else, something not scary at all but independent and productive and pulsating with life.
I just need to write.
Before the winds of the universe blow this one away.
But first I have to shower, round up breakfast, let the dog out, nurse the baby, wash the dishes, watch my head spin on my shoulders, make lunch, change diapers, start laundry, quell spats, drive to preschool, etc, etc, etc.
[Hm, maybe I should start with a short story?]
Posted by sarah at 6:55 AM
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Mama, can you hold me?
After I finish changing Ruthie's diaper, Eliza.
Mama, can you hoooooold me?
Just hang on, please.
Maaaamaaaaaa? Can you hooooold meeeeee?
Okay, yes. Now.
My nerves are hanging out of my ears and eyes and skin, and now you're sitting on them.
But I'm holding you.
Mama, can you tell a story about me and Eliza?
Inwardly, I sigh. I recoil slightly. Anything else, please.
But I muster my enthusiasm and try to awaken my sluggish imagination.
One day very soon, Claire, you'll attend school all day.
And I'll want to tell you stories.
A cry in the night.
Ruthie, you can't be up again.
I pick you up and you bury your face in my neck. Tired. Needy.
In my arms nursing, you cash out, back to blissful oblivion. I wish I could tag along.
But your fuzzy hair and warm body and soft sighs belong to me alone.
In this moment.
I've been out of college for almost six years. What have I accomplished since then?
Scraps of my heart strewn all over the place, quietly beating in time with the hearts of the three people who can crawl most scratchingly under my skin.
I welcome you in.
I may not let you out.
Posted by sarah at 7:07 AM
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I am an autocentricist.
I cannot deny that the earth revolves around the sun.
But I envision a universe that revolves around the Self. For each of us.
My universe revolves around me. And my thoughts affect my reality.
Perhaps this is an egotistical view, but to me it explains a lot.
It explains why I can pour my intentions into an uncovered Bowl on the sunny front step, knowing they will evaporate into the atmosphere and pool in clouds above my head. It explains why then, sometimes unexpectedly, these evaporated intentions solidify into something very real and rain down upon my head.
Each day hands me a pile of sugar and a pile of clay. Everything goes into the Bowl.
Positive thoughts are like grains of sugar – light, sweet, easy to dissolve.
Childhood is magic. Spring renews me. Writing fills my heart. Every breath cleanses my soul. Love lives in this house.
But negativity manifests as lumps of clay – tough, grey, heavy.
I have no time. I'm too tired. Children and animals follow me everywhere. Noise assaults my mind. I have no predicable space of my own.
I have to stir vigorously and practically boil the water to dissolve the clay. And I do. All the time. Then, that grey sediment muddies the water, obscuring the delicate grains of sugar.
But the sugar – the sugar melts easily with gentle swirlings. And the clay cannot be moved by that.
So each day I have a choice: I can invest energy into negativity, or I can let that clay settle to the bottom of my awareness. I can create a rain that pelts me in the face with its mire, coats my outlook with a heavy mood, and knits my brow against the world. Or I can soak under a sweet mist, lapping lightness from my cupped hands.
Last night I went to bed with that lump of clay under my pillow. Today, I'm letting it sink to the bottom.
What will you choose?
Posted by sarah at 8:14 AM
Thursday, March 18, 2010
I read carnivorously.
I grasp a plot in my teeth, gnashing through it until I extract the juice and swallow whole fibrous lump. Insatiable, I search for more.
I've always read this way.
I reach the ends of books well fed and hungover.
I revel in each feast.
But though good reads singe important emotional reactions into my psyche, I've forgotten entire books this way, retaining only wisps of the plot.
In typical carnivore fashion, I just slopped through Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, The Lacuna. I inhaled her words, racing through the plot. I turned the last page in awe of a story well crafted, words beautifully arranged. A symphonic novel.
But in an atypical change of pace, I'm moved to reread this one. Now that I'm fat off the plot's hearty meat, I can chew more slowly this time to fully taste the poetry of words, to fully digest the weight of themes. And remember this one.
I practice yoga fluidly.
I move through a series of postures dynamically, saluting the sun, meeting vinyasas. I synchronize movement with breath, flowing though my practice with purpose and perceived grace.
I've only known yoga this way.
I reach the end of my practice with a meditative mind – calmed, clear, at peace.
I honor this practice.
But though my body retains an imprint of each posture, I know that I overlook the subterranean intimacy found through deeper exploration and extended holdings of single poses.
In the new class I'm attending, the instructor explores the nuances of only a few poses – thigh bone press together, shin bones press apart, pelvic rim lifts. Lift the heel, find breadth in the shoulders. The first time I encountered this style, I resisted: what's the point of this? Where's my meditative space? But through this instructor, I'm approaching yoga from a different angle – standing still in a river's current, netting brightly colored fish.
I write slowly, in gasps.
I dig deep, mining words from my soul one at a time. I sift through, collecting the sparkling bits and discarding dingy bits of dirt. I commit words to paper. I revise. Edit. Rearrange. Erase. Start over. It takes a lot of time and energy for me to write anything.
I've always written this way.
I compose short works, agonizing over construction, rhythm, meaning.
I take pride in the end result.
Though this style of writing is my way, I ache to breathe more evenly and find the endurance to dig even deeper.
So in my journal writing, I simply barf words onto the page. I don't think twice about nuances or poetry. I just write. My pen scratches carnivorously, continuously.
By changing the pace, I'm exercising new muscles, building endurance, eyeing a much bigger goal: I want to have a first draft of my novel written by the time I'm 30.
11 months left.
Posted by sarah at 10:16 AM
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Spring hasn't quite sprung.
But it's not really winter anymore, either.
We're in between seasons. I still wear my gloves, but they're the fingerless kind. I still crunch through snow on my way to the mailbox, but mud claims more and more of the yard with each sunny or rainy day. I exhale and still see my breath, but I don't inhale icicles. I still smell fireplace wood smoke – that cozy, wintery scent— but it meets my senses wafted on moist, thawing air.
This is a time of transition.
One foot steps forward but the other hangs back, hesitating.
My heart races in anticipation: I can't wait until we go outside without jackets! And spend mornings at the park! And sit in the grass! And dig in the garden! And open the windows! And bring out the road bikes! And watch everything green up and bloom!
But despite the suspense, there is something balancing about such a straddled stance.
My fingertips stretch forward, just brushing the future; the heel of my back foot presses against the past. A wave of reflection washes through me; my body conducts the heat. I stand quite still, all motion paused, weight evenly distributed across this space, breathing into the very center of all things.
The change of seasons brings on an obvious time of transition. But we don't have to wait for an equinox – we are always on the cusp of change.
I find it every day in the hour just after dawn –no longer night but not fully day. And then again at dusk, when the day melts into darkness. I find stillness in the quality of this light – a visual pause that can bring inner balance to a disheveled morning or chaotic evening.
And I find it in every breath as I tune into the pause at the top of my inhalation. I retain that breath for a moment, holding the space in my lungs, balancing before moving forward.
Perhaps by becoming more aware of these physical times of transition and tapping into the balance found in the changing season, the quality of light, or the movements of breath, I can learn to find more peace during periods of waiting in my life. Right now, my heart races with anxiety – and even dread – when my mind sniffs and searches, wandering out of the present to wonder about the future. That page is blank in my imagination, and the unknowns fill me with fear. No light can illuminate the corners of that void, so it makes more sense to find balance – and thus, inner peace – where I currently stand.
My back foot presses against where I've been and who I was: I can still touch the uncertainty of new motherhood and all the overwhelming emotions that occupied that space.
I'm not in that place anymore. But I draw upon lessons learned, pipetting the energy of experience into today's emotional equation.
My fingertips stretch forward, lightly brushing the edges of new experience.
I'm not able to grasp anything concrete yet. But I can tap into the energy of potential and siphon inspiration into the present.
This is a time of transition. I wait in Warrior Pose: strong, stable, still.
And I might stand straddled in this way for awhile yet, so I better get comfortable right where I am. A Warrior of the Wait.
Posted by sarah at 6:26 AM
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I have the break-up blues.
No, no, John and I are fine. More than fine. [Seven-Year Itch? I'm talking about Seven Years' Bliss.]
I have the blues because I broke up with my yoga instructor.
[I don't think she realized we were going out, though.]
I've been with her for almost three years, following her when she moved studios, adjusting my schedule when she changed time slots.
She gave me yoga.
Her passion inspired me. Her knowledge fed me. Her instruction taught me to focus on the breath and explore my edges.
From her practice I built mine, and today I could give up yoga as easily as I could give up breathing.
But I had to give her up.
With the daily chaos kicked up by the kids, driving 30 minutes each way plus the 90 minute class started to feel like a lot to ask from my family. Not that I don't deserve time away – believe me, I do – but spare time doesn't grow on trees, as it turns out. I could certainly donate that 60 minutes of car time to some worthy cause – to the dishes [oh, the never ending dishes…], to John [because he deserves time away, too], or to all-together-time [because that's scarce sometimes as well].
So when John decided to join the local athletic club [which, significantly, is within walking distance] to begin triathlon training, I opted into the membership to hook up with the free yoga classes.
While I'm leery about the quality of these classes [the verdict is still out – I'll attend my first class next week], another factor lured me in and sealed the deal – the pool.
Many years have lapsed since I last swam – who knows what happened to my last lap-appropriate swimsuit? – and my aerobic fitness is rather slack right now. [Read: I'm woefully out of shape.]
But I jumped in tonight.
I felt buoyant. I felt light. I breathed in rhythm and felt energized. I felt strong.
And then after while, I felt like a fish out of water.
You know, out of my element. At my limit. [Drowning.]
So I exited the pool.
But I found a new edge to explore.
And maybe swimming will inform my yoga practice, too, as it forces me to focus deeply on my breath and pushes me to strengthen the edges of my endurance.
I already miss my yoga instructor, but I think the breakup will be good for me.
Posted by sarah at 10:26 PM
Monday, March 1, 2010
We have a needy dog.
She needs to walk. [Incidentally, so do I.]
She gets to go most days. [I should say we get to go.]
And she knows when the conditions are right for a walk – both John and I must be home. When John is gone, she knows the possibility does not exist. [She still begs, though, because –hey – just like you never know when food might fall to the floor, there is the chance that the leash might spontaneously attach to her collar.]
But on weekend mornings, because we're all home, she begs with heightened urgency. [Obnoxious? Yes.]
We walk, but by evening she seems to forget her morning romp. She demands another. [It's amazing how insistent non-verbal demands can be.]
Because she's not the only needy creature in this house, though, she never gets indulged with that second outing. There is dinner to make, games to play, dishes to wash, children to bathe. And then there's me.
I'm pretty needy, too.
I need calm. I need chocolate. I need order and a schedule and a plan. I need yoga. I need a good novel. Very acutely, I need John. I need blank notebooks and time to write in them. I need sunshine and to witness the quality of light at dawn and dusk. I need reassurance. I need something to look forward to. I need family. I need to talk it out and keep it in. I need balance. I need my bed. I need to surf the web. I need to deeply inhale the scent of my baby's skin. I need inspiration. I need direction. I need to hear my children's laughter. I need solitude.
And whenever I meet one of these needs, my soul begs for more. I'm insatiable. [Yes, somehow, just like the dog. We're all living creatures.]
Sometimes I overwhelm myself [and others?] with my cavernous need, especially because all the basics are always all covered. But as much as I need to breathe and to eat and stay warm, I need to find beauty and peace and reflection and self. I need space.
What do you need?
Posted by sarah at 8:15 AM