Friday, April 13, 2012

Gratitude Month Week Two: The Kingdom of Now. A Collection.

Do not hurry; do not rest. Though even He rested, one day.

Some moments, spent missing you. 
Other moments, spent missing not one single square inch of you.

Dog's life is shorter than mine; let him stop to smell everything. 

The now of waking: what kind of sky, through the threadbare curtain.
The now of waking: the cat, less her collar, comes in through an open window, paws wet with night rain, examining the thin skin of my eyelid with curious nose. She loves me.

My mother's voice is calm when she tells me the news, but even in this calm we are both thinking: nothing else matters, but this. 

Put my face over the coffee grounds as the steaming water seeps through; half the reason why, anyway.

My father gave me the carved wind spiral from the house; after a heavy wind I go to reorder its lines of wood and spend the afternoon with cedar fingers.

  On the bus, a girl with a rope of beautiful hair bound to her head with a glass comb. 

Through the wall, the low vibrations of my neighbors, talking to their baby.

The now of the house plant: You need more time to grow your roots, I say. You, too, says the houseplant.

Three new blossoms of the African Violet, timid before the grey window light.

A body strong enough to cover seven miles and more.

The Moonflower that has survived the fall and winter indoors; that is beginning to thrive, give new growth. With luck and encouragement, it will bloom for one night in late summer, its white blossom a single, unfurling trumpet under a dark September sky. 

Ask only to be worthy. 
With luck and encouragement. 

 Nothing else matters. But this.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Gratitude Month Week One: The Past. Or: This One's Called, 'Titanic'.

As interested as I am in the Freudian theory that most of our adult emotions, perspectives, reactions, and nuances stem from long submerged childhood experiences, I have a difficult time putting that interest into practice. I'm sure Freud is right; my past certainly does dictate a great deal of my present, but I have a hard time doing the work of examining my childhood. I don't feel a great amount of nostalgia for my childhood; in fact, if I'm being brutally honest, I find the romancing of childhood influence and memory rather cliche. This reaction isn't born of a bad upbringing, quite the contrary; I had, by most standards, an extremely blessed childhood: married parents, close siblings, animals to care for, toys to play with, healthy food, birthday presents and play dates and family vacations and warm beds and lullabies. I was rarely punished, nor was I overly spoiled. I respected my parents and genuinely loved them. I genuinely loved (love) my sisters. I suppose my disinterest in the deep analysis of my childhood might stem from the very fact that it was a good childhood; I don't want to color something pure with too much interpretation; I'd rather just let what was, be what it was.

As such, when I was sitting down to practice Gratitude Month, week one, in which I'm asked to recall and give thanks for a specific childhood influence, I found myself coming up dry. As a blanket statement, I will say: I am thankful--immensely, forevermore--for every single influence of my childhood. For every kind hand, word, action, deed, and gift that, for some miraculous act of random blessing, I was bestowed with. It is easy to look upon my childhood with simplicity and gratitude. Deed done. Where I have a bit more trouble, when focusing my gratitude towards the past, is in giving thanks for the girl I was at twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. The girl I was when I was deep in the heart of the worst place of being young--the terrible, wrenching, lonely, self-loathing place called 'Awkward'.

I sometimes joke about this time with my sisters, saying that my 'awkward phase' lasted from about age ten until twenty-two, and while it's undoubtedly true that I have spent the majority of my life feeling 'awkward' in one way or another, my true period of teenage angst only recalls itself as lasting because its contours were so sharp and gritty; I've long been tattooed up with the humiliations of that time, and while the marks have faded, they remain as a reminder that many of my adult sufferings stem not from the submerged terrors of a four or five year old, getting lost in a grocery store, but from my thirteen and fourteen year old self, desperate to pass the age-old high school test of survival.

It seemed fitting, then, to devote a bit of page space to the girl who causes me the greatest grimace, as I feel it is high time that she be forgiven for not knowing what she was not required to know at such a time: that living is more--ought to be more--than an exhausting hustle to be liked. This is her:

Bad haircut. Acne. An obsession with Leonardo DiCaprio. An ancient Bruce Springsteen cassette in the tape deck. Makeup that she doesn't know how to use. An older sister she is desperately envious of. A little sister who still wants her to play Barbie. A crush on the same old boy--the soccer player, the leader of the pack.

The year I am thirteen, my grandmother is living in our house. She is dying. Her heart is failing her. Her hospital bed and tray of medication, her oxygen machine, fill one room. At night there are nurses who sit up and listen for her call so my mother, consumed by grief, can attempt an hours sleep. My older sister has her license and goes out driving; her hair is long; she has friends. My little sister is five; I still sometimes play with her, setting up tiny houses with plastic furniture and calling our mother in to look at our interior design skills. It is a dark winter. The year I am thirteen, I go to see Titanic a total of eight times. A movie ticket--at night--is five dollars. I use up all of my allowances. I beg my mother to take me. My father. I drag along my best friend Megan, who is unimpressed. I hate my hair. My skin. My clothes. I want to be like my older sister. The house where I live does its best to emulate its normal loving aura, but the truth of it is dying, and eventually death, and all the living that we're required to do after. My mother kept living, through and after her grief; we all kept living, but it's no wonder that there are whole segments of that time--months--that hold no clear memory for me.

Last night I went to see Titanic again, in the movie theater. The ticket was eleven dollars. My little sister, who is now nearly twenty, went with me. We joked as we drove to the theater; remember how many times you went to see it when it first came out? I laughed at the girl I used to be; I rolled my eyes at her adolescent naivety. Sitting in the theater though, I found myself pulled back to that long ago dark winter, and I found that I could recall, with surprising clarity, what it had felt like to escape from the house to the movie theater; I could recall the rough fabric on the seat cushions; the stick of shoe sole to dried soda; the way I could escape, could hide myself, for a few hours, in story.

I didn't consider writing as an actual pursuit until much later in my life, but when I think about it, when I am forced to pause and remember, I see that I have been writing--I have been seeking the escape of story--all my life: writing poorly worded fairy tales on legal pads in the catacombs of the public library while I waited for my mother to finish her shift at the reference desk; writing horribly cliched poems that seemed all-powerful for my high school English classes; filling journal page after journal page with my latest demoralizing angst or fleeting swell of hopefulness. It is when I recall my life thus far in this vein, that I am apt to look upon the awkward, thirteen-year-old girl in the movie theater with forgiveness. Gratitude. Thank you, I want to say, for knowing that what we needed then, in the midst of deep sorrow, was a good story. Over and over again.

Thanks for reading. (This was a long one.)


The Cynic, The Believer

I know a good woman who is embarking on what she is calling a Pilgrimage of Gratitude this April. This Pilgrimage is to be divided into four parts: past, present, future, and all that is. Each week in April, she--and inspired others--will focus gratitude towards a different part of their lives, seeking to call forth a feeling of appreciation for what the world has, does, and will grant us. It's a humble and ambitious pursuit, and I'm going to do my best to manifest or mimic some of the idea's earnest spirit as I attempt such a Pilgrimage myself.

Such a pursuit, however, challenges a great dichotomy that exists in me; the tug of war between my believer and cynic selves has long been a present battle, though the older I get, the better able I am to find and keep a place of balance between the two poles. Fervently practicing a month of outright gratitude, however, sends my cynic siren flashing. I am often overcome with gratitude for what the world has given me, for the people who surround me with their love, but rarely do I make that gratitude a tangible thing; rather, I allow the feeling to reside privately, powerfully, hoping that the energy of silent gratitude is strong enough to make itself known.

That energy is powerful, no doubt, and as a prayerful person, I'm going to continue my own personal practice of giving silent thanks, but I'm also going to practice something new, something that seeks to assuage the believer in me, the girl who wants to know more about yoga and meditation; Buddha and yin and yang energies; the universe and our small place in it, for a very small time. I'm going to practice open gratitude--for my past, my present, my future. I'm going to write about the things I've forgiven, accepted, and learned to give thanks for--here. In this space. My cynic self will be deep inside, rolling her eyes. My believer self will be happy. I'll do my best to put myself squarely in the middle, and see what emerges.

Next post: trying my best to feel gratitude for my thirteen-year-old self.

Check out this lady's Pilgrimage of Gratitude for yourself: Vital Being Wellness

Thanks for reading.