Snow Day

A welcome pause.  If I close my eyes and listen, it is as if I live in the country surrounded by woods. All I hear (besides the dripping sink!) is the whoosh of wind through the trees. The usual drone of traffic from the nearby highway is muted by snow – already 6 inches deep and falling so fast that the plows can’t keep up. Nothing to do but stay inside, read, write, cook, dream. Maybe the laundry.  There is no urgency and it feels like a real vacation day. And outside, everything is beautiful.

There are things I need to do – like sort my tax papers out for next week’s appointment with my tax wizard. There are things I should do like sort out messy closets, but my loves are out of the house – and here in this relative silence, alone, (sweet because it’s rare) I feel motivated to do none of the above.  I miss working on my book but feel in a strange hiatus as I wait with fingers crossed, for a response from the agent who has agreed to consider it.  I do not feel ready to move on to the next thing – for one, there is no obsession (yet) to tell a story – not like there was with Light Between Shadows, but also because, I am (hopefully) imagining feedback and suggestions from agents and editors that will have me back to the drawing board.  I wait and try enjoy this limbo, like a snow day.

Here is what I will cook today:

Thinly sliced beets tossed lightly in olive oil and sea salt and roasted until they are crispy.

Roasted leeks, onions, garlic, garlic, and more garlic, and potatoes into a pot with chicken stock with lots of fresh ginger. Half of it pureed with a handful of frozen spinach. Yum.

Sleep, perchance to… sleep? And a rambling about books.

Sometimes I wake in the dark, early hours wanting to write about something. Go on, get up and write, I urge myself.  The bed is so warm and the air so frigid, I never do. In the light of morning, I have no recollection of what inspired me in the dark. Not surprising really, since these days, I never remember so much as a flash of a dream. Nights are delicious, nourishing voids.

Not that I don’t miss crazy escapades of the remembered subconscious, waking with a sense of  having had adventures -but only a little. In years past, I suffered so many sleepless nights worrying, that I savour this gift of solid sleep, these nights, slumped on the couch by 9:00 PM.

Most nights, I try and read before conking out completely, curled up under the quilt – what luxury.  The stacks of books-to-be-read continue to grow into teetering towers around the house.  Advanced Readers Copies picked up from work are on every table and stacked on shelves of already full bookcases.  Currently, I am hooked on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – a best seller that many friends and readers I share tastes with, have raved about.  I am half-way through and while crime thrillers are not my  usual reading taste, and the violence makes me wince, I  know I’ll need to read his next one too. Not exactly bedtime reading but I can’t put it down.  And still, no dreams (or nightmares!).

Borrowed from the store (a great benefit of my job) is Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD – a refreshingly, rare from an MD, holistic take on proactively dealing with this sucky disease. War of the cells and what we can do to stack the odds in our favor. Things we know, but I for one, need reminding of –  like layoff the white stuff – sugar, flour. Exercise. And drink red wine! Being positive and having friends – recently this attitude has taken a beating (by Barbara Ehrenreich of Nickled and Dimed fame for example)but I know what kind of person I prefer to be around and unless you’re really funny in your bleakness, I’ll choose the positive attitude any day.  Back to this book -it is interesting because the author is in this battle himself, and has survived past ‘the odds’ – something he poignantly addresses. This is the book I dip into between driving my teenager to and fro.

I even checked a book out of the library the other day – Pretty Birds a novel by NPR’s weekend edition, Scott Simon published in 2005, is my downstairs book.  I don’t know how I missed reading this since it is about Sarajevo during the war and I compulsively read anything on that time and place – whether fiction or non-fiction. The first few chapters of my memoir are set in Bosnia during the war so I can’t help reading other people’s work with a comparative eye. Of course, my story is more about the war of addiction and Sarajevo is the fitting (and true backdrop) for launching my story. I’ve only read a chapter but it’s already compelling.

Recent temperatures have been arctic and I long for spring – but I realize that when it comes, my reading time will shrink with the demand and draw of the garden and sun.  Maybe winter is not so terrible after all.

Wolf Moon

The moonlight was so incredible last night that I should have weathered the cold and tromped through a wood. Instead, I stayed warm inside, merely peering out  at the amazing glow cast  by the first full moon of the year. Stunning.

Coincidentally, on Wednesday I read How the Moon Regained Her Shape by Janet Ruth Heller (a beautiful Native American inspired fable) to a group of inner city third graders. It was our first meeting but I will be visiting them monthly, bringing a book with me to read, learning their names and personalities.  Already I have a sense of a few of them. There’s the inevitable little boy with all the answers – bright eyed and enthusiastic – furiously waving his hand in the air to speak at any chance. The one I most want to engage is the girl in the back who battled to keep her eyes open, her head resting on the desk through my hour there. What kept this little one from getting a good night’s sleep?  I worry, imagining the worst.  I know it is not possible for me to fix what is wrong in her life by I hope that maybe one day I can bring a book that is an anchor for her, or at least brightens dark nights like the light of last night’s moon.

One day a month – is all I am able to commit to and that doesn’t feel like much. Ultimately, I imagine  I will probably remember more of our time together than them. In the strange glow cast by last night’s moon, I can’t help believing that some magical synergy is in the works.  As I looked out the window, I imagined each of the children from that classroom also catching sight of the moon and remembering the book we read together and realizing the possibilities offered by books and nature – a sense of magic offered beyond the immediate.  Did they feel it too?

Milestone

This morning, I popped the last white pill from the prescription bottle and tossed the empty bottle into the trash. After five years, it seemed unceremonious. There will be no more refills – I am done with Tamoxifen, the drug I diligently took to hedge my bets against breast cancer.  I am a pharmaceutical skeptic –  but was not willing to venture out on my own against this disease. I have diligently followed doctors’ orders, hoping to keep cancer at bay by religiously swallowing a pill every morning. Finishing the recommended protocol, I feel a mixture of relief and anxiety.  Fleeting thoughts that this little pill really was some kind of panacea. But I know better: there is no such thing.

The best I can do to try to edge up the odds in my favor, is to eat only the best of food, to drink red wine only in moderation, exercise these aging bones, but most of all, stay happy.  I am a complete believer in the mind-body connection.  I don’t think it was any coincidence that I was diagnosed only months after my husband’s suicide.  For years I had been tautly wound with stress, pain, worry, grief.  Since then I have learned to keep my toxicity radar finely tuned.  I try to pay attention more – to everything, starting with the breath – how life begins and ends.

At Last…

Solitude and silence.  These conditions are best for me to find the place in my mind where words wait. It takes time for me to navigate through the clutter in my head.  Writing has become my meditation – allowing me focus and clarity for the rest of the day, and I have missed it.

Recent mornings, I have been glued to stories from Haiti where so many lives were swallowed up by the earth. Staggering, sobering stories.  I look at the ceiling of my home and imagine it crashing down upon my family.  I am grateful for the standing walls and roof of my house, the food, water, electricity – the health and well being of my love ones.  I am grateful that for now, this is my lot and humbly send what I can to the wonderful organization, http://www.msf.org/MSF.

During my days as a United Nations Peacekeeper in the former Yugoslavia, Medicin San Frontiers was the organization first in and last to leave.  It is one of the least bureaucratic of all relief organizations – meaning your money really goes to work helping people on the ground rather than paying for someone to write reports in an office.  Please check out this wonderful organization.  And savor your good life.

Learning to Love Winter

Well, love is probably a stretch, but I am trying to improve my seasonal attitude. Just now, forced out into the morning cold by my dog’s baleful eyes and desperate door-scratching, I shivered along the street and tried to think of things I love about winter. The heat and glow of the fireplace, flannel sheets, the fragrance from my Jasmine plants, sleeping…  But these are indoor pleasures, more about hiding from these dark, cold days. To really love winter, I must move beyond my inclination to hibernate.

I want to find some joy out here in this frozen world, I think.  Searching our quiet street as Tetley pulls me farther away from the warmth of our house, I notice how blue the sky looks and how good it feels to fill my lungs with cold, fresh air.  I see the birds flitting about, their markings more vivid against the muted hues of the brush and snow covered ground. Just then, as if campaigning for a spot on my mental list, a hawk announced it’s presence, high up in the trees in the small wood by my house.  Magnificently, it arched it’s wings, flipped it’s broad tail and flew across the sky just above me and I feel – joy.  I always bemoan  the months of the scraggy, sepia landscape, and long for the lush greens – but what am I missing?  Today I will bundle up and take a long walk and look a little closer at everything.

A New Year

I’m not crazy about New Year’s eve in America – so hysterical, noisy and alcohol driven. I prefer the Japanese rituals around ending the year. I lived in Kyoto in the late 80s and remember that in the days leading up to the New Year, the focus was on taking care of unfinished business – both physically and spiritually, clearing out.  This means paying your bills and debts and giving your house a thorough scrubbing. Leading up to the midnight, neighborhood temples are crowded with people lining up to ring in the New Year, literally tolling the temple bell as a way to send away all the troubles and concerns of the year before.  The last of 108 gongs is rung at midnight, the reverberation of the final toll fading into the early hours with all of the previous year’s woes.

I’m behind schedule. My job at the bookstore has been so hectic, I have barely managed to wash dishes and clothes. I decided to cut myself some slack this year and hereby, extend the deadline for launching my new year. I will play catch up in the next week or so: cleaning out closets, hunting down dust bunnies, scrubbing floors and catching floating webs from ceiling corners, all the while, clearing the way for my dreams for this year and decade.

Akemashte Omedeto Gozaimas!

The Promise of Brighter Days

Snow is virtually gone – washed by the past few rainy days.  At the end of the driveway on a sloping bit of land, the strawberry plants I transplanted out of the vegetable garden last summer, are a stunning green against the wet brown leaves and earth around them. In fact, the plants seem to have multiplied under the icy cover of the past two weeks. I let myself be thrilled by these crazy promises of spring – although it is not yet January and there will be plenty of snow and frigid days ahead. Technically, winter has just begun. Still, this glimpse of green and the pile of seed catalogues on my table feel like harbingers of spring.

This is partly how I navigated through some bleak days in my life: years of my husband’s addiction, his suicide, my bout with breast cancer.  Although there were times it was difficult to see the light, I always could imagine brighter days lay ahead. Nature is the key for me.  Throughout the seasons, there is always comfort to be found in the natural world. Planting bulbs, for example.  Placing the parchment skin covered bulbs into the cool autumn earth was an act of hope. Winters of the world or of the soul can feel long and dark but the bulbs helped me to believe that life would get better: a faith rewarded each spring as the crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths emerge from the still-cold earth.

Christmas Morning

The silence is beautiful.  My loves are still asleep, no trucks go by and I cannot hear the usual drone of traffic from the turnpike. After days, weeks of frenetic activity, finally, everything is still.  The room, the house, the street outside and beyond all seem to be in quiet meditation – focus within and on the breath. Breathing.  Not enough of that of late – remembering to breathe. All because? Preparing for this day: Christmas. And here we are. I am happy to just be able to stop. We will open presents, I will happily cook shrimp and an array of vegetables and later in the afternoon, we will walk across the street for a shared meal with our dear neighbor friends. I will keep breathing delicious, calming breaths and remembering the quiet of this morning.

Winter Solstice

These last few darkest, longest nights of winter have been stunning.  The snow seems to be illuminating the slice of moon hanging in the sky and the stars appear to be dropping to earth, their flashing glow is so bright. I’ve seen more than one meteor rip across the horizon – making my heart leap.  Thank you Tetley the dog, for forcing me off my corner of the couch into the darkness so I get to see the show.  My inclination is to hibernate rather than experience this glorious dimension of winter.

Somewhere, tucked into a corner of the garage are snowshoes and cross country skis I have picked up from tag sales or thrift shops over the years thinking that if I did something fun in the snow, I’d like it more.  Perhaps this year I’ll test that theory. But I savour the extra in-door time winter allows for — no garden work to do so I can read inside by the fire, or (even more decadently) in bed.  I’ve been reading Mary Karr’s Lit – a brave and vivid memoir.  A harrowing story of her alcohol abuse, but she manages to be funny and so likable. I find myself rereading some sentences multiple times, admiring and envious of their beauty.

I have been reading memoirs pretty compulsively. What is this compulsion we have to share our lives, or look into other’s? To find some kind of recognition, shared experiences, insights into the human condition? I’m also, just curious. I like to see the world through another’s eyes, sense the workings of their heart.  Fiction of course does this too – often more artfully – but there is something about a well done memoir that I love.  I first wrote my story as a novel – it felt safer to do so.  A dear friend from the bookstore read it and suggested that it would be more powerful in my own voice.  I took her suggestion and in doing so, feel like I found my voice.  It was frightening at first but ultimately, cathartic to just tell my story.  It continues!