A Waking Ramble

In moments of almost-waking what a stream of images I recall! Sometimes a kind of story line with drama, emotion and characters. What’s going on in there? Where is this stuff coming from? Our subconscious is wild. Don’t worry, I will not tell you about my dream. Other people’s dreams are not interesting.

I did clock some hours with a therapist who found dreams rich fodder and asked me to remember and tell her mine. During those months I got pretty good at recall and would write them down but I am lazy about trying to interpret them. I just wanted her to do it and give me my insights. We are the author of our dreams, she would say. In fact, I rarely remember mine and since I stopped seeing her, I don’t much. But there’s no doubt, there’s a lot going in the night and it’s not a bad idea to cultivate value. At the very least, the freedom and imagination.

As if I were in a new exercise regimen noting my slimming and strengthening body (that’s next!) there are changes I see in just 4 days of this practice. Room has been made in my psyche that was previously filled with mostly thoughts about work or worry or food. I don’t want to jinx a good thing so I’ll stop there.

But the richness of slumber and how to roll into wakefulness without shutting out the crazy creativity, imagination, memories, spirit of those sweet hours of being checked-out of this world. Where do we go when we close our eyes to sleep?

Day Lily Days

The shelves at the garden center are almost empty. Only leggy, ragged plants with roots packed into their little containers like leftover spaghetti, remain. I wonder what’s next? Chrysanthemums and pumpkins? But wait – it’s only early July! Time for harvesting lettuce, maybe tomatoes if you were an early planter without greedy pests. At my place, there’s basil tucked behind my makeshift fence. Also arugula, thyme, oregano and cilantro. I picked up some new guinea impatiens – never my favorite but the only flower the groundhog ignored. I buy five at a dollar each. Walking out of the greenhouses past the once full space, now left only with boxwood and hydrangea shrubs, a tiny knot of sadness pinches my stomach.

I was in high school when I first registered a sense of melancholy around time. Not because I was happy and wanted the days to slow. I recognize now, I had long felt invisible at home and this probably inspired my urgency to capture my days. I filled journals, recording events, scrawling my angst and bad poems. I drew. I played music. Art gave me a sense of being able to own time. In creating, I felt I might claim it, especially in writing. It was as if unless I wrote about something in my life it did not exist.

The faded flowers in the picked over garden center triggered a flash of familiar poignancy. The sweetest seasons pass in a blink. In every perfumed inhale of lilacs, pinch of mint, nip of autumn air, I sense the finite. How many chances at such pleasure we get remains a mystery and too many I have loved long lost theirs. I want the daffodils of spring to last a little longer but appreciate the day lilies, rough and ready in a sprawling, wild summer explosion, a better reminder to seize today.

Forced blossoms

I pruned the dickens out of the two peach trees a few months ago. Ever an optimist, I stuck the branches in buckets and vases throughout the house and breezeway hoping to hurry Spring. It didn’t really work. Out of the many dozens of sticks, one bloomed. While my experiment ended up making my house look more like Miss Havisham’s than Martha Stewart’s, this one elegant spray was enough to make it worth it. See?


It’s a little convoluted but somehow, these pink beauties encouraged me to pay attention to my neglected blog. I’ve started many actual posts that remain sitting in my cyber home as drafts. I’ve ‘written’ even more – mentally. During the last few weeks there have been a few nights when I woke up with what seemed like almost formed essays and thought – grab your computer – do it! More devoted to sleep than words, instead I rolled over. I’ve been inspired on many meanders with our little mutt Rufus. Captivated by something on a sparkling morning or moonlit night I thought – today I will blog – and didn’t.

I’d like to say I’ve been writing other things – but I’d be lying. For me, writing is like exercising or yoga or meditating. If I don’t carve out a time to do it everyday – it falls by the wayside. My discipline in all things has lagged. The hours are eaten up by mundane routine of life – work and socializing or on the couch reading and watching what always feels like too much television even if I insist to myself that it’s mostly good stuff – English mysteries and reputable news. Ha! And let me confess too, my shame about lost hours staring at social media sites like some bored teenager. Ugh. So that’s what happened.

My lone blooming peach branch out of all those branches in 4 different buckets and 2 vases, made me thing that as well as being lazy, maybe I’m being too precious lately about about what I post here. There’s certainly a bit of existential angst – why am I doing this for all these bloody years? But I’m pushing back against this paralysis! Inspired by the damn twigs so hopefully sitting in water for months, I’m going to write and trust that out of it all, sometimes there will be a beautiful bloom.

Creativity is a lot about showing up and doing it. I need to get back into working the muscle. Like moving my body or eating right, getting enough sleep – all things I feel better doing so why not do these things? Yes – it’s been winter, hibernation and all that. But enough. The blossoms are blooming and today, without rereading this a million times, doubting, tweaking, fussing — I’m going to press publish.

How was your winter?

Beside the Ohio River: A Kentucky Retreat

 

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The stillness of the water, steady as socks around the tree trunks is deceptive. Simmering through the leaves, the sun makes a green sauna of where I stand searching the water for a hint of lapping tide against the sloping banks.  Stepping carefully across the slippery mud, I dodge the poison ivy thriving even in these flood waters. Swollen by this summer’s rains, the Ohio River looks benign from where I stand. But 20 feet out, huge logs and unidentifiable debris speed by, the only indication that this is no lake. The current is treacherous enough to swallow the strongest swimmer. In fact, in recent days entire homes have been washed away by these waters.

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A massive engine rumble and I know before I see, a loaded barge passing – long, flat beds piled high with construction materials. This one dirt, the next, huge cement blocks. A tugboat at the end, merrily pushing the load. It stirs my heart, this timeless glimpse of industry and I watch it pass like a parade.

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I love a river – the stories they carry, the sense of coming and going, both a force of life and destruction. Growing up, the Hudson was my river. I sent my adolescent angst against the tides of immigrant history, imagining relief and romance with the promise of the ocean and a world beyond my Bronx Streets. The Ohio is a different beast – an American river connecting and sustaining working communities. I stand in Kentucky looking across at Ohio. West Virginia, Indiana, meeting the Mississippi in Illinois leading through – not just an exit and entry – as much a life-line as an artery.

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Up at the house are friends who also traveled here from other states. But this river holds our history from decades ago. We studied with a sculptor here in Kentucky, sharing art and our lives. When we can, the women of our group, (we christened ourselves Studio 70 Sisters) meet in summer for what we call, our retreat. We began these gatherings more than 5 years ago when our kids were old enough that leaving them for a week inspired minimal guilt. We reconnect with the ease of family, sharing wine and food, delighting in catching up on each other’s lives.

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By the second day, a spot is sussed out, easels set up, paints and pastels arranged and a magical quiet descends. These gatherings are not just for gabbing – there is work to be done! Like alchemy, there is a sweet understanding and common language creating best circumstances for creative working, thinking, being. Quiet, of course and a sensitivity to space that is remarkable and rare. Any of us can peek into a room and quickly sense whether someone wants to be left alone.

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This year we are at Paula’s – a stunning spread of fields bordered by river and railroad tracks. At night, the rattle of trains rush by, so close to this grand old farmhouse that our beds shake. Like barges on the river, I find this romantic and easily go back to sleep imagining the lives whooshing past this dear spot. I feel simultaneously a sense of being in the center of things and in the middle of nowhere.

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It is good to be back here after so many years even in this sweltering humidity. The barge has passed and the rumble fades as the load heads towards Cincinnati. Within minutes, a lone Tug chugs into view heading in the opposite direction, relieved of its load, it is pushing easily upriver. I think of us gals – especially with kids, how we forded our way through the currents of our lives, keeping precious cargo steady on course for the more than twenty years until we could (almost) let go. And here we are again. As I watch the tug chug back from where it came, unencumbered and light, I navigate my way carefully up the muddy banks for dinner with my friends.

I Went Nowhere

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I’ve been on vacation this week and spent it getting reacquainted with my old friend, solitude. After making breakfast and packing lunches and smoothies for my loved ones, I sent them off with a kiss to their jobs and my pup and I stayed home.

I love my gal and my guy but I cherish solitude. I love my job requiring me to talk to people but going a whole day without speaking to a soul is bliss. I’m overdue for visits with many beloved friends but I made no plans for lunch or coffee. This week, I indulged my neglected introvert.

Just for fun I took one of those goofy online tests to see whether I am an introvert or extrovert. I’m both. I love meeting new people, talk easily and with pleasure with anyone — but my need for solitude is important enough for me to get out of bed ridiculously early so I have some time alone. I’m grateful my loved ones are big sleepers more inclined to stay in bed till noon than worry about getting any worms. Mornings belong to Tetley and me and even he usually goes back for a nap after his quick morning outing.

During this week’s abundance of alone time, I did experience some pangs. I remembered the other side of the coin: the loneliness of being alone. It’s a fine line. In my pre-family past, when I lived alone, I often felt an ache of longing – to have someone in my life, wanting love, to be wanted, needed. Rarely did I own up to this, sure it was a sign of weakness, of being a loser, of not fitting my self-image – or at least the one I hoped to cultivate. I’d take lovers anyone else could spot would not be right for me, sure they’d fill the spot I’d reserved. With varying degrees of drama, these affairs crashed and burned. I marveled at my mated friends – envied their sense of being a unit even when they squabbled. Okay, then maybe not so much – I know how lonely it can be even when someone is sleeping next to you.

I used to hate the feeling of loneliness. Now I recognize the pangs of desolation as first steps on the road to where I like to be, as a sign I’m going in the right direction on the way to get somewhere interesting. It may be tough to climb the mountain, but how great the view is. I understand better how to dive into this place of alone.

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Being good at solitude is a little like a muscle and if you don’t use it, you lose it. For me, it’s the same group of muscles I use to create. My best work grows from a quiet place deep within me – a whole different terrain than the day to day business of being in the world, going to my job, being an extrovert. Like all of my muscles, I want to keep this one limber, the one that gets me to a quiet place where I can best hear what’s really going on.

It was a good week. I went nowhere.

Where’d My Mojo Go?

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Where’s it gone? Where’s my fire? Waiting around for a lightning bolt of inspiration is not the answer, so this morning I sit rubbing my mental sticks together hoping for at least a spark, maybe enough to ignite a long-burning flame. I know what it takes – I’ve done it. For years I had disciplined practices for yoga, for writing, meditation. Had. I have no idea what happened. It’s been awhile and have no excuses, no good reason.

I churned out a complete manuscript while Molly was still living at home. I made her breakfast, her lunch and took her to school each morning just after 7. I did all this and still managed to write – as if in a trance, for an hour. I did that. I marvel now. Now, I go to work at 8 – giving me almost another hour and my daughter’s away at college so time is all mine. Plus, I have my own little room to write in. There’s no reason I couldn’t get in a few yoga stretches and a page or two.

Instead, I sleep a little later and when I do get up, I dawdle away my precious daybreak reading other people’s blogs or worse, scrolling through Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Really. I admit this shamefully. Instead of doing what I know makes me feel centered and purposeful and healthy – writing, yoga, meditating – I aimlessly fritter away my time with mental junk food.

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Why is it so hard for me to get back into that magic zone? I know I’ll be happier, so why don’t I just do it? I have piles of books to inspire and guide me. In the dark moments before falling asleep at night and rising in the morning, I sometimes mentally write a post, start an essay, another book – and poof! – by the time I get back here to this chair, it’s gone. I know the trick about scribbling notes. Trust me, I have plenty of scribbles. But I’ve still got to put my ass in the seat and lay down the words, take my spot on the mat and stretch out my achy hips. And I’ll feel better.

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It takes regularly sitting, breathing, focus, writing, breathing. Writing becomes like a meditation only my fingers move. And don’t, don’t move away from this screen, this lovely clear, empty, distraction free space. No emails, no news – that’s the end. That’s what sucks away the morning, leaving me no richer, providing no sustenance.

It’s discipline – practice. Life feels much better when I have a practice in place. I carry the focus, the story, the posture with me throughout the day — a rich, quiet center that feels like the true me. I move through the day carrying whatever story I’m telling, with a sense of my body moving, standing tall, stretching, breathing, being in the world — not just within the parameters of my working hours, ringing sales at the cash register or staring at computer screens to answer emails — but a rich interior life I get to carry with me. The life that doesn’t pay my mortgage but sustains me just as much.

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That’s what I want back – that sense of who I really am in the world. That’s why I write, stretch, sit, breathe – a way of being that gives me joy. It has to do with seeing more than what is apparent – that which is only visible if you pay attention both inwardly and out. When I have a practice in place, I feel an incredible awareness of time and space with every breath. How delicious breathing becomes!

I know this — so why have I slipped? Why is it so hard for me to get back in the groove? Now it’s colder and darker in the mornings – even more of a challenge to crawl out from between the sheets. But that’s just another excuse. I have no good answer for losing myself like this.

I feel like I’ve come clean here, confessing to you – and it feels good. Having spent many years reaping the benefits of the AlAnon rooms, I know the power of ‘admitting’ and I suspect, I’m not alone. Any one else with ‘mojo’ problems out there?

A Pain in the Neck, Creativity and No Plans

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I am at the edge of an ocean of time: a week off from work with no plans! Yet, since joyfully levitating out of the store, I’ve already kayaked every day  (R was my Prince waiting with water-borne chariot on Friday) done Yoga on the beach, washed fresh oysters down with good beer while listening to live Jazz in the breezes off Norwalk Harbor. I’ve baked an apricot tart, concocted a potato salad with olives and shallots, and a lentil salad with red peppers, mango and the tiniest bits of kale so maybe Molly won’t notice. Plus R and I finally moved the messy piles of branches punctuating our lawn since the tree came down over a month ago. Fun, delicious and productive and my week has only just begun!

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I love not having to go to work. Of course these days to myself are precious because I work full time but a few friends have recently retired and are coping just fine with their new time-wealth. I would too, but retirement thoughts are with my lottery winning fantasies: firing up every time I buy a ticket while keenly aware of the lousy odds.

Even with a dream job like mine, pausing to restore some life balance is crucial. A stiff neck has plagued me for weeks. No amount of rubbing or heat or yoga has eased it. I began researching acupuncturists and massage therapists but on Saturday, floating on the glasslike Long Island Sound, paddling to nowhere, I felt my shoulder and neck begin to unlock. Ah!

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While gazing at the islands, I remembered a time when my neck was so bad, I could not even turn my head: Bosnia. For months I’d put in 10 hours, 7 days a week. Work was simultaneously compelling, frustrating and sad. I was part of a peacekeeping operation with no effective mandate; essentially we were sticking our skinny fingers in a big dike. As happens ‘on mission’ or ‘in the field’ in the lingo of that business, work was my life and down-time meant drinking too much with the same people I’d just spent all day with. I never unwound – thus my neck muscles became so tight, aptly, I could not look around.

I’m no longer in a war zone so why is this happening to me again? I’m surrounded by books, regularly meeting people with common interests and I’m not usually stuck behind a desk. Most days fly by. Still, as is true for everyone I speak with these days, there is a lot to do and less time to do it in.  Friends employed in education, medicine, business and of course, self-employed authors and artists, are all working harder than ever for results rarely what they once were and certainly not as easily achieved. And thus we are stressed. Aren’t you?

I know there’s a problem brewing when I wake up on a Sunday morning worrying about something that is job related: what school order is due? will I have enough books for an author event? I’m afraid I’m a “good girl” making me a great employee and it’s challenging to have ME be the most important boss, to be the ‘customer’ that matters most. It doesn’t matter how great or exciting the job is (I have had both) my subconscious is best fueled by creative, not task-driven juices. To get there, I need a daily routine, a time set aside to pay attention. Only when I do this can I sustain a rich interior self throughout the day, no matter what I do.

I want my first thought on waking to be about whatever I’m writing, not job issues.  In the past, I obsessed over my painting or sculpture but the form of art is irrelevant.  My stiff neck has alerted me to the importance of nurturing, sourcing and keeping alive and well, the sorcery of where art comes from. I need to look and really see the world around me while also digging down deep inside. There in that gazing within/without, lays the magic and the bliss. That’s what I’m after this week – to get back to that daily practice of being.

Yesterday, I was gabbing with my beloved and brilliant sister and she reminded me of Walter Mosley’s slim little book, This is the Year You Write Your Novel. He recounted how he always got up early to write before going to his bill-paying computer programming job, thus ensuring he gave his best to himself. The old, pay-yourself-first wisdom taken to another level. I credit Mosley’s book for inspiring me to diligently do the same, and I did, getting up every morning to write my memoir – yes, in a year.

I have no plans this week but hope to wake to no one’s story but my own.  I may also get a massage.

Retreat Report – Thursday

Retreat House 2013
Retreat House 2013

Lovely, no? The house is incredible – full of nooks and crannies and open studios, and even a greenhouse with grapefruit, lemon and fig trees (!) neatly tucked into the steep hills of Litchfield County. One-on-one and together again around tables of food and drink, we decades-long friends have been catching up. Paula and I share a room and must force ourselves to shut up and turn off the light. So many years to catch up on and so many years to remember.  Between gabbing session, we eat meals like this…

Tuesday Night Dinner - Veggie Lasagna and Salad
Tuesday Night Dinner – Veggie Lasagna and Salad

Wednesday morning, Fran, who lives nearby who was also a devoted former Mike Skop student, generously ran one of his Creativity Sessions – a great launch for our week. The 2 hour session included a bit of Zazen, Yoga, IChing and Notan collaging. I particularly enjoyed the meditation session – something I’ve wanted to start doing but have recently felt challenged by. What should I DO? Fran offered a very simple technique  of simply counting your breath – 10 to inhale, 10 to exhale. Just that focus helped to quiet my mind.  The silence, the peace, made it easy to find that space of serenity – surrounded by dear friends of like minds and intention all breathing together.

That seems to be the theme – this shared vocabulary we have, an understanding of something intangible that in our day-to-day existence, gets easily muddled. The word PORTAL keeps coming up in our conversations together – an image, a sense of what this time together, reflecting and creating — that seems perfect. And we laugh a lot.

Today is strangely cool and since it was sweltering when we packed our bags the other day, we are mostly underdressed, borrowing socks, layering sweaters. But now I will venture out cautiously (Lyme tick country) between the fields and through the woods  for a good fix of nature while I’m at it. I’ve been marveling at the bounty of flowers and veggies that thrive un-assaulted by critters even though the gate is not fenced in – easy access for rabbits, ground hogs and other short guys. So much bounty around here, they can’t be bothered? I’m envious.

Plenty to Harvest Here
Plenty to Harvest Here