Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Frankly, what you want to be and to love...

1. Perfect. Which to me means calm. Means eternal generosity. No guilt. Peace at every corner, anger at none. What is anger? Me feel anger? Never. No. Perfect means no upset. Perfect might be he with a lobotomy. Perfect. Doesn't exist. Damn.

2. Want to be young forever. An optimist and dreamer at heart, someone has recently introduced me to the idea that not everyone looks at the world in this way. Some see reality. Some see darkness. Some can't escape the fact that we. all. die. This is harsh, yes, but also a push to remember that we. all. live. And are living now.

3. Want to love everything! But I don't. I don't love the sound of Ira Glass's voice. I don't love Februaries. I don't love January second. I don't love grey skies. I don't love holes in socks. I don't love black coffee. I don't love licorice. I don't love competition. I don't love spotlights. I don't love the fact that life requires toughness and thick skin. My father has a saying: "You've got to put on your iron underwear". He's right. I don't love it.

4. Want to feel gratitude, every day. A nice notion, and certainly one to strive for. But some days are just waking up and doing what needs to be done and brushing your teeth and getting back into bed and waiting for another day to come. This is enough.

5. Want to love my enemies. But...I don't love you for a reason...right? I am not a saint. Clearly, you're not either.

6. Want to do it all! Write! Every single day. Suffer for it. Read every book on the shelf, regardless of its ability to pull at me. Accept every invitation. Do everything on the 'needs to get done' list. Gift and gather and learn and forgive and move the fuck on. It will always take forever to do it all. Do some.

7. Want to love, myself. Many days, yes. Many days, not so much. There are still yes days. If there have been some, there will be more to come. More love. More toughness. More writing. More books that pull, more forgiveness and forgetting of anger, more living saints and broken human beings, more brushing of teeth and getting in and out of bed, more new socks and cream for coffee, more sun between clouds, and more gratitude, coming as a gasp from nowhere, for it all.

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Job. 

For the first time in what has probably been years, I stayed up last night until almost 4 a.m., drinking wine, eating food, and talking with good friends. I don't think I've had such a late night since graduate school, maybe since college. I'm tired today, and didn't get out running until noon, but I'm glad for the night I had.

I've recently lost someone from my life--not entirely, but in a certain, specific capacity--and among the myriad reactions I've had to such an experience, one thing I've been surprised to discover myself feeling is a sense of expansion, an aura of release from certain duties in my life. Relationships, no matter their genre, require work. If we want to keep close our friends, our lovers, our siblings, our co-workers, we have to do the work of keeping them close; we must be kind, we must share of ourselves and our time, we must make space and set boundaries. This work doesn't always feel like work if the relationship is a good one, but it's work we do nonetheless, happily and yes, sometimes begrudgingly, because we want to do it, we want to keep the relationship alive. What do we do, though, when we want to do the work, but the other person lets us go? Takes away our duties? Leaves us...jobless?

Most of my weekends over the past few months have been devoted to one person.  I had a difficult time accepting other invitations or extending them myself because what I really wanted to do was spend a precious 48 hours with the person I didn't get to see much during the week. I looked forward to these weekends. Now I find myself in a different place, and in this place, I'm pulled between two conflicting truths: one, I miss my weekend partner, the 'us' that filled up and gave comfort to Friday and Saturday evenings; and two, I am unabashedly thankful, this first weekend at home and alone, for the fact that I can do whatever it is that I want to do. I used to spend my weekends like this all the time when I was single; I slept late on Saturday, went for a long run, and came home to write, or clean, or cook. On Sundays I would go to church or spend the entire morning reading, not getting out of my pajamas until late afternoon. Some weekends the only time I'd leave the house was to take the dog for a walk. I was lazy; I turned down invitations; I became my most beautiful hermit self, and I loved it. I also worried. What if, I'd ask myself, I'm incapable of sharing my time fully with another person? What if I'm doomed (and blessed) to spend my life this way, only finding true peace when I'm truly alone? 

While I still feel this worry at times, itching at the back of my most analytical mind, I've nourished enough good relationship work to realize that my worry is misplaced. In fact, more and more, I've nourished enough living work to realize that most of my worries are misplaced. There are two sides to every worry, every truth. I like being alone. This is truth. I like doing things with people I love. This is also truth. Sometimes what I owe someone is my time and attention. Sometimes what I owe myself is my own time and attention. Both true. Sometimes, as much as we might want to do something, to be with someone, to make something work, we simply cannot. The world, time, the other free-willed, fully deserving person says No. We've been let go, released of our duties. There is heartbreak and utter disillusionment in such release. There is also a great lifting off of weight, an opening of space, time, attention.

This weekend, I stayed up until 4 a.m. I slept in until noon. I went for a long run. It is now late afternoon, and I won't get to many of the things I'd had planned for the day. I've accepted some invitations, but I've also declined others. Tomorrow, I will probably spend my entire day alone, and there is great peace in that. All of this is true. What is also true is this: I miss the job that I just lost. I miss the person who gave it to me. It was work, yes. But it was work that I often enjoyed, and I was dedicated. Today, I'm just going to sit with these truths. I'm going to give them space and let them reside. I'm going to do the work they're asking me to do, which really, is to simply let them be. There's no getting around them, and there's peace in that, too.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Free to Be. You. And Me.

I have an affection for quotes and poems. Sayings. Passages from novels that are small moments of brilliance. I am always clipping these out of books or printing them from the computer and pasting them in different places around my apartment. They often keep their power for a few days, but they just as quickly fade to background, becoming only squares of white paper accenting the wall paper and paint. I will remember to pause and read them now and again, enjoying their cadence but never again fully feeling the meaning that they held at the first, when their discovery seemed somehow destined, a sign from the Gods. These are my latest discoveries:

"What will dissolve is the residue of the past idea of the self; and with it the story that there is anything to prove."

cast off 
the past idea of "self"
and ascend
to the true name
that lives deep within.
"But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things."  (Thanks to my dear letter-writing friend Rob for this one).
It is always the case that when words discover me (or I discover them), we find each other because we have something to offer each other. I give the words admiration and a square of cabinet space, and the words give me that which they've been trained to give: a nice, neat (and more often than not, miraculous) little bundle of clarity. Here is what you've been trying to muddle through, they seem to say. Here is what you've been attempting to express. Yes! I say, and go to find my scissors and scotch tape. Thank you
Lately, though, my search for these neat bundles seems to have become a bit frantic. I am a tidy person, a perfectionist at heart, and I don't like the messiness of emotion, though I am, ironically, a person given to very strong emotion. Words have always been a way of nicely organizing any unruly feelings, any confused notions, and when even words seem to fail me, I am at an utter loss. How will I figure it out if I can't tie it up neatly in a sentence? A paragraph? Ten pages? 
Even now, as I work on this post, I find myself drawing a bit of a blank. So I'll aim for simplicity and directness. What I find myself confronted with lately, is the idea of self. Or rather, the totally confused and still forming idea of self. The idea of self has long been one I've grappled with, but in recent years (and growing at an ever accelerating rate in the past few months, weeks, and days) it is a notion that doesn't want to leave me alone. Try as I might, I can't seem to find the perfect quote to encapsulate the idea for me. Even those above only touch upon pieces of what I've been trying to figure out.  
I suppose my question is: what are we really trying to do, to be, when we give ourselves the challenge of 'just being ourselves'? What is someone really saying when they charge you with the crime of trying too hard, or with the inability to ever really be yourself? I am often confused and frustrated when people tell me to 'just be myself'. I want to ask them: Who do you think I am trying to be? The notion of a 'self', cognitively and psychologically, is such a complex one; it is as if we've been charged with the task of taking on another life, another being, aside from the one that encases us in skin and bone, and charged with scripting it into view. 
While the idea does challenge me--and perhaps always will--I have decided lately, to try and overcome my frustration in lieu of my own mode of figuring out. I'm going to quiet the neat word bundles that try to tell me what it's all about. I'm going to ignore those who say 'just be yourself', as if this were the simplest task in the world. For me, for now, it's not a simple task. It's a daily, conscious decision. Maybe some would tell me that I shouldn't have to work so hard at it; that's fine. That's their 'should', not mine. I am not going to task myself with the pursuit of some unrealistic, golden plane where all else falls away and I am forever, purely my 'self', no matter my environment, its people and business and weather. Instead, I am going to work daily to be my most centered self--the one who gets the lucky work of strength, peace, love, and faith. All of my other 'selves' are no less real, no less authentic, they're just a bit less fun. They're the selves who do the work of fear, sadness, anger, pettiness, vanity, and weakness. When we're being guided by them, we might not like it, but they take their jobs seriously too. How do we get them to quit? We can't. We can only take away a bit of their power.
What does make sense to me is this: In order to find--again and again--our most centered selves, we must go to the places, the things, the people, the pursuits that make us feel most 'real'. 

Here's my working list: 

Sarah, Robin, Anna, Sally.

This place: 48.07 N. 114.08 W. 
And this: 46.35 N. 112.02 W.

Writing. Running. Reading.
The moments just after yoga class. (Though not necessarily the moments during it.)
Cooking in my tiny kitchen. 
Dancing in my tiny kitchen when I hope no one's looking. 
Laughing with my sisters on the phone. 
Listening to my father's voice, reciting, as we stand in a church pew. 
Looking at my mother's hands. They are mine, mine are hers, years between. 
Walking in sunshine, in rain, in falling snow, on frozen, or melting, or fertile ground with a small orange dog. 
Holding my cat--when she'll allow it--and letting her purr vibrate through me. 

Carole King. James Taylor. My parents' vinyl collection.
The drive east, over the Divide towards my childhood home. This drive in the bleakness of a Montana winter. 
The east side shore of Flathead lake. 
Sylvan Road. 
Plaid shirts. Worn jeans. Woodsmoke. 
Raking leaves. Shoveling snow. 
Molding pie crusts. 
Harvesting my garden. 
Gin and tonics in summer. 
Old Fashioneds in winter. 

Giving my touch to others. Giving a listening ear. Giving my patience. Giving my love, ever fully. 

Thanks for reading. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The House of the Heart

I often assign a small essay by writer Brian Doyle to my students. This essay, "Joyas Voladoras", tackles many scientific things: hummingbirds and their 'race car' hearts; blue whales and their 'piercing yearning tongue'; mammals and birds and heart chambers. Ultimately, though, "Joyas Voladoras" is about one elemental thing: the fragility and complexity of life. In the final paragraph to his essay, here is what Doyle tells us:

"So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with not one, in the end--not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall."

I have been thinking of this small essay a great deal lately, and reconsidering what it might mean to me at what has become a delicate, transitional time. Here is what I've come up with: I believe that Doyle is right. I also believe that I don't want to believe him. I want life to be a fight--a fight against locking down. The world is harsh--we are constantly being tested, turned away, not wanted, taken for granted. We are also constantly in communion with the world--out in it, experiencing it right alongside everyone else. No one is ever alone, yet we are always alone. It is the recognition of this contradiction that gets us fighting to open 'windows' to our hearts. It is too easy to believe that we are islands, that if we seclude ourselves or run away we can stop trying, because we won't have to worry about anyone else. I say: bullshit. All life is a trial--each day is an attempt, at its very heart.

I want life to be a fight. Every day that I am lucky enough to wake up, I want to fight to feel gratitude. I want to fight to overcome my hermit tendencies--I want to ask for help. I want to help others. I want to fight the urge to be swallowed up by one thing--one emotion, one bad moment or decision, one relationship; I am all of my pieces; I am every single one of my moments alive--beautiful, ugly, mundane. Most of all, I want to fight to keep my heart open--I want to find the people who will look inside and treasure what they find as a gift, because that's what human connection is; that's what an open heart is--a gift. Someone doesn't see it? Someone turns it away? No matter. Seek out others. Don't close the window. Lock it up and you'll never find what you're fighting for. Keep it open--be desperate to keep it open, whatever weather may enter. This is my wish for you.

Thanks for reading.