Saturday, January 30, 2016

the plant in my living room

There's a plant in my living room. It's been there for over two years.

It doesn't look very good again. It must be time to water it.

I try to water it regularly. Give it plant food sometimes. Trim off the dry, brown leaves, turn it so the sunlight can touch even the side tucked in the shadows. I've tried moving it to different corners of the living room. These relocations are usually done out of necessity -- We're putting the Christmas tree here, so this shelf will have to go over there. And -- hm -- the plant can go over there -- but I always think this will be good for it. Maybe a new spot is just what it needs.

I've seen it perk up nicely in response to water, but mostly it looks sad, on the edge of someplace else. But it hangs on.

I don't really have much of a knack for growing things. I'd like to. I always thought I would. I imagined a garden when I fantasized about owning a house. Vegetables for sure. Flowers too, maybe. But I haven't tried very hard to overcome the challenges of shade and soil. And because I've always felt pulled in so many different directions in the house -- kids, chores, work -- growing things has never been a priority.

Kim always kept a beautiful yard. Luscious flower boxes, carefully chosen landscaping elements, herbs in an artsy container over there, tomatoes in a patch over there. A water fountain against the garage, and a deep, rich-sounding wind chime hanging from the pergola there. You could hear it from inside the house if it was quiet. Though if you were inside the house you'd most likely be drawn into a story she was telling. Her energy could fill a room like the sun slanting through the windows on a winter day. Warm on the back of your neck. I miss her.

When Kim died, John's workplace sent us the plant that's still in our living room. It was full and green then; it took up so much space. It had a white ribbon sunk into its soil. The ribbon is long gone and the plant looks thin now. But it's still green. It still sends up new leaves.

It's hope and I'd like to keep it alive.

Monday, January 25, 2016


I'll figure it out when I get there.

This is what I told myself when I imagined the delicious unscheduled time I'd spend on my solo trip to Arizona before I'd meet up with the friend I was planning to visit. Time I'd spend alone, not taking care of anyone else or considering another person's needs at all. Just my own.

I'll figure it out when I get there.

I said it like someone with access to a smart phone, with a GPS built into the dashboard of her rental car, with nothing but time and a heart full of adventure and serenity. Like someone who has traveled alone more recently than 12 years ago. I didn't picture myself like this, with 5% of my phone battery left (and falling), driving through a construction zone in the middle of a big, unfamiliar city, with no address to plug into the very helpful GPS display awaiting my input, still feeling the aftershocks of a much-less-smooth-than-expected experience of airline travel.

I had envisioned time in the airport to make last-minute plans, cup of coffee in my hand, waiting to board my flight. An airport is just a gigantic waiting room. A place of transition. Limbo. At least that's how I remembered it.

Instead it was a rushing, sweaty, heart-in-throat experience that involved arriving later than I should have, parking in a more expensive lot than I had intended, mentally hurrying security line forward only to find out I had waited through the wrong one (what?!), and boarding the plane -- just in time -- with a full bladder (and a serious aversion to airplane bathrooms).

Once the flight ended (and I finally used the bathroom -- dear lord), I retrieved my checked luggage without issue and got my rental car. But I was talked into an expensive upgrade to a 4x4 by the guy behind the counter because of all the snow that had fallen in the area the day before.

"Some highways are closed," he had said.

I felt skeptical about the necessity and ridiculous for not even asking around for a lower rate. But I had signed the paperwork and was pulling out of the lot, and all I could hear were all should-haves bouncing and clattering behind the car like tin cans tied to a honeymooning couple's rear bumper. Only I wasn't driving off into the sunset.

My stomach was in knots, my mind was jittery. I felt young. I felt old. I felt stupid. Talking to my husband helped (he's reassuring and optimistic by nature), but I still felt unmoored. (Spell check wants me to change this word to unarmored. This is an accurate suggestion).

What was I doing? Where was my sense of adventure? If I ever had an inner compass, it had gone completely haywire. Maybe I should have stayed home. I like being home. I really do. I like things safe and quiet. But my house isn't often quiet. I was hoping to find that here. I still could. I just needed to regroup. I pulled over, hurriedly googled restaurants near me, and plugged an address into the GPS.

The traffic thinned once I was out of the construction zone, and within a few blocks I saw the cute, trendy cafe my internet search had recommended. I drove past it three times, circling the block again and again even though I could see open parking spots. It felt like a big decision to stop here. Were they open? Would I get a parking ticket? Could I find a spot to plug in my phone? I was being stupid, I knew. I was almost laughing at myself, except I also felt like crying. I needed something to eat.

I finally parked the car and went inside. I blinked as if coming in from the bright sunshine or in from the bitter cold. But the difference was neither of those things.

In here, the music was chill and familiar. The lunch crowd hadn't arrived yet so the space was fairly empty. Casual. Relaxed. A huge exhale. I was coming in, out of my head.

"Do I just order here?" I asked the woman behind the sit-down bar. There seemed to be a main counter, too. I was probably wearing lost like an ugly sweater.

"Yah, you can. No problem." She gave me a menu and I chose the frittata -- quickly -- before I could start second guessing this decision, too. "Sounds great; I'll put that in," she said.

"Thanks," I said, resisting the very strong urge to tell her everything that was pressing on the lump in my throat.

I picked a table (another decision I could make!) and set my backpack on the ground. I draped my coat over the chair. There was an outlet in the wall under the table. I plugged in my phone. The food came and I ate. I drank some coffee.

I texted the friend I would meet later and texted home to say hello. I looked up directions to a hiking trail I'd wanted to try. I finished my coffee. I felt like I could breathe again.

When I left the cafe I said goodbye to the woman behind the bar. I wanted to thank her for changing the trajectory of my day, but it seemed like too much, and not really true. It wasn't her, though her good customer service skills certainly helped. It was something else -- or a bunch of little things, really: the ritual of a meal, the safety of a phone charged out of the red, the comfort of a destination and set of directions. And something in the quality of the air that pulled the anxiety right off my skin, an effect not unlike the wind created when air moves from high to low pressure.

Looking back and seeing it from the outside, it really didn't take much to ground me, ultimately, out of an unmoored, uncertain state. But to me, in that moment, it was a weather event. A paradigm shift. Everything.

And from there, I had an excellent vacation.

Friday, January 22, 2016

How do you feel?

How do I feel, right now?

First, my feet tingle, waking back up after their doze from when I was sitting cross legged, one foot tucked under my thigh – 

why do I sit like that? 

My legs fall asleep every time and it’s always a miniature agony for them to come back to life. But it feels so cozy to cross my legs, tuck myself in, self-contained, keeping everything out, an origami folding (intricate), a yoga pose (graceful). But pins and needles are never graceful. The pained look on my face, the willing it to go away, the inevitability, and finally the lessening and passing and ease again. I can always feel it when my legs are going numb. That would be a great time to unfold, but the numbness is a special feeling, too. The absence of feeling. The exit of feeling. Feeling draining out and what’s left is a vacuum, an empty space, a breath held out. And the inhale will have to come, and soon, but that gap has its own potential.
I’ve been thinking this week about how I look back on the past 11 years and I feel like I’ve been asleep, in a way. Claire was born four months after I graduated from college, and I wasn’t fully formed then. There was still more unfurling I needed to do. But she was born then and I switch-tracked into motherhood, a place I never really imagined myself inhabiting but never really imagined that I wouldn’t inhabit, either. I was happy to take this path, though. I didn’t have any other plans yet, just some vague dreams that seemed far off anyway. And this was so real and here and in my arms. A baby. Something I created. I see a lot of people cozy into motherhood so easily. Of course, up all night is easy for no one, but I was tangled up in a lot of self-doubt during Claire’s baby days, and to be honest, all of their baby days. Claire, Eliza, Ruth, Rose. Rose is three and a half now, and for the first time in 11 years I don’t have a toddler and an infant or a pregnancy. And so a little bit I feel like I’m unfolding. Or I want to unfold.

My limbs have been bent inward for years. I’ve been sheltering something, keeping everything else out, protecting myself from everything I fear. I think right now I’m at that point just before inhale. I’m empty. I want to take a huge, slow, expansive breath but I’m afraid it’s going to hurt. Does it always hurt to wake up? It’s terrifying to admit how little I really know, how fragile I really am, how shaky my confidence really is. I’m so afraid that I’ll unfold my limbs, and when the feeling comes back I still won’t have anything to say. And I’ve always wanted to have something to say.

Friday, January 15, 2016

to a good friend

I am walking uphill.

This is not a metaphor.

I have micro-spikes on my running shoes, walking sticks in my hands. These have become my good friends.

Right behind me is a true good friend, the kind of friend you may only meet in scraps of time scattered across the years and the whole spread of a country, but with whom a connection always hums. Hiking with her today feels like it could be every day. Like we do this all the time.

My body laughs at this thought, though -- do this all the time. I have been exercising more lately, but the Grand Canyon has a way of humbling a person.

My lungs are heavy. My legs are moving but they feel like a funny mix of jello and concrete. My feet have been barking for miles. I stop - again -- to let my breathing slow and my heart rate climb down out of my eyes. I can see the blood pulsing when I look at the snow. We've been ascending for awhile now, but the rim still seems impossible over our heads. I trace the trail ahead with my gaze, trying to assess the grade. A couple hikers are quite a bit ahead of us. I watch them turn the corner of a switchback and it doesn't look like they're climbing as steeply as we are. They look small. Far away.

"We've got this," my friend says as we push ahead again. I agree with a grunt. Of course we've got this, but I like that she said it aloud. I like that I can hear her feet crunching over the snow behind me. (I like that she let me go first. I was starting to lag, and discouragement was weighing me down. She could feel this.) I like that we've already talked and talked and talked and now we're silent and that feels good, too. I like that I can complain if I want to, stop if I need to catch my breath, fart if I feel so moved. I like that I'm here, now, with her.

We'll get dinner after we're done with this hike, and I'll listen to her read a bedtime story to her daughter later on. She and her husband will both sing Baby Beluga. When her daughter cries out of a nightmare just before sunrise, my friend's voice will float sleepy patience cozy love waves of soft comfort fading into silence and peaceful darkness again.

So much has changed, I'll think as I pull the quilt over my shoulder in the guest bedroom. But it's also true that everything is exactly the same.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

before i write

Actually, if you want to know, my alarm goes off at an hour much earlier than is needed to allow for just the morning pages and the morning walk, at an hour I used to consider a night waking when my kids were babies. My alarm goes off and I shuffle out of bed and into the bathroom, shove my contacts into my bleary eyes and grab the pile of clothing I set out the night before. I use my phone’s home screen like a flashlight to find my way down the hallway, locate my water bottle on the kitchen counter, and head down into the basement, where I flip on the lights full strength. The brightness makes me squint for several blinks. I’m not fully awake.

This is a good thing because I’m going through the motions of routine, not quite capable of analyzing earliness of the hour or the effort the scheduled workout will require. My body is tricking my mind into this. I change out of my cozy, warm pajamas into exercise clothes, pull my dumbbells out of the corner, and load up the DVD. Then I’m doing squats and lunges, or maybe today its hammer curls and pushups. It could be sets of mountain climbers and burpees, or plank variations and crunches. It depends on the day, but you get the idea: I’m sweating.

And then it’s over and I cool down and change into my walking clothes and head back upstairs for my coffee and notebook to write before I head outside to walk the dog.

Why do I do this? I’d say because I’m making time for myself, but that’s not totally it – the writing and the walking fill this category pretty well, so this alone can't be motivation enough to pull me out of bed. And the Lord knows I don’t need to lose weight. I’ve always been that skinny girl, skinny Minnie, the you-should-eat-more, I-wish-I-could-be-that-thin girl. But with all my angles and edges, parts that jut when rounded and curved is more standard, I’ve always been self-conscious about my body.

It’s true that I’m all grown up now, but I will never forget how I felt in 9th grade when a kid I didn’t even know by name stopped in the hallway in front of my locker and asked if I was anorexic. His eyes were lined with disdain, not concern. Or the time I was changing out of my racing flats at a track meet and a girl from another team commented, “Your legs are SO skinny?!?” She did not speak with admiration. My responses were feeble in these situations. Inaudible.  I was never (and still am not) good at dealing with conflict of any kind, but it offended me deeply when someone insinuated that I was unwell or could somehow control my hyperactive metabolism.  I was born skinny. That's it.

I’m still skinny even after having four kids.

I don’t attract mean comments anymore – thank God the world is not a high school – but sometimes people still think it’s okay to comment about my thin stature. This doesn’t bother me like it used to, but for the record I’d like to state that it might be better to consider whether a comment about someone’s body is truly a compliment before it’s spoken. Being thin does not mean I am in love with my body, nor does it indicate that I possess a measurable amount of self-confidence.

But there’s something about doing these workouts that is shaking something awake in me. Does it sound cheesy if I say that getting stronger again is strengthening something in my head, too? That doing something I thought I couldn’t (it would be too boring, I know I don’t have the time, I’ll never stick with it, I’ll get too tired, I’ll be too sore, it’ll be annoying, I’m not a fitness person, etc, etc) is breaking up some really old inner shadows?

I’m starting to be able to see my abs again and my biceps have some substance. I can do ten consecutive pushups (this is progress!) and I can get lower in sumo squats. I’m thinking about buying some new running shoes so I can give that a go again. I might sign up for a race.

I’m still the same skinny girl but I feel bolder, more awake under my skin, full of potential energy. This is not at all dissimilar to how writing makes me feel, actually, and this is why I get up so early in order to do both. It’s like this:

Under every skin is so much
Unshown territory.
Alive on its own no matter
If you lie about it or look for it.
Lamp on skin,
Beads of “Yes, That” wander the web
Of possibility.
My mask is my skin.
How can I be without it?
Out of it?