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?

First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

Cleaning Closets

It’s easier to get up early now that the weather is warming up and the light starts breaking by 5:45. That’s when I woke this morning, limiting myself to only one hit of the snooze button. The winter cold disappeared last week so when I sit up in bed I don’t have to pull blankets up around my neck and can’t see my breath.

I used to get up and out of bed to sit downstairs and write, settling in at my desk with a cup of tea, then hammering away at the computer keyboard. I didn’t want to disturb Rob by writing in the room. I am happy to stay put in bed now, fluffing up the pillows behind me and even turning on the light if I need to.

I sometimes miss having a man I love beside me in life – but not so much when I wake up in the morning. Certainly I miss the good times, when the guys I loved were healthy and their breathing or sleep-twitching didn’t seem suspect. While it would be nice one day to fall so in love again that I want to share my bed, it’s hard to imagine actually liking someone so much I’d want them in my queen snoring beside me every morning.

And share my closet? How did I do that for 20 years? Especially with Neil. He loved and had more clothes than me. I spent part of the weekend purging and organizing my closet. I have before and after photos but they’re not loading so you’ll have to believe me that I had a lot of stuff plus more in there. It’d been years – or forever, I can’t remember which, since I pulled everything out. Then I washed the crevices and even vacuumed the ceiling. If I really had my act together, I would have painted but I decided not to get crazy. Why did I think I had to keep plastic bins of tax papers in my closet? That shit’s now in the basement! Get moldy, I don’t care. Twenty-two years of sharing my limited closet space with tax returns and supporting documents. Marie Kondo, I need you! Did you read her book? I didn’t find it compelling enough to get beyond a few chapters but the gist of it is helpful and I still swear by her folding techniques.

What got me into the closet was the need to swap out seasons. I always prefer the winter to summer swap. I have way too many of both seasons’ clothes even after purging the no-spark-joy pieces. Maybe I need to read another chapter or two. Yes, I still have the book years later even though it doesn’t particularly spark anything for me except maybe guilt. It’s a book I may want to look at again so I kept it. Along with the other hundreds I have all over this tiny house. That might be where Kondo-san lost me.

I did purge some clothes channeling the Queer Guys. Have you watched that? I’m a fan. I want them to remake my life. Although I don’t think I’m that much of a mess, I did add my capri length pants to the Goodwill pile because I heard their voices in my head chastising all of us older women who still wear them, not too. They’re right: it’s not a good look. Be-gone! Besides, they were a little tight. The thing about all the clothes hanging in my closet now is that they all need ironing. Cotton and linen. The need to iron is the only downside to what is otherwise for me, the preferred seasonal wardrobe change. I have to now allow for ten extra get-ready minutes required in the morning but I’ll take it over woolies and cords.

What do you keep in your closet?

In Praise of Rivers and Walking (Dogs)

We were dog-less for at least a year after beloved Tetley died. Without a dog, I rarely wandered around the neighborhood, particularly not in winter when I’m inclined to be a slug. Now we have Rufus. We think he’s a chihuahua-scottie, pretty darling and an easy, sweet dog. While sometimes I complain, I’m grateful he gets me outside even during a recent cold snap. Walking behind his jaunty strut, him pulling a little too much on his leash, it’s hard not to smile.

Molly and I have worked out an informal labor sharing system. I do morning, she does night walks. Either one of us tries to get a good long one in during the afternoon. The morning one is a quickie to just take care of business. I throw a big coat over my pajamas and let him sniff around the street while I yawn and wake up, thinking about my dreams, clearing sleep from my lungs with deep breaths. These days, the sun is just about rising and the morning planets hanging around on the Eastern horizon give me their last twinkle before fading into the day sky.

The good long walk is when I get home from work, if it’s still light enough. I need it as much as Rufus does. My favorite walk is along the river because there are no cars and because – river! I love rivers – the sense of always coming from and going somewhere. As I write, my cheeks are cold because I just got back from a jaunt on this sparkling, bracing winter day. The long way takes about 40 minutes if you factor in Rufus’s pit stops and smell checks. Today I took pictures.

The mouth of the river leading into the Long Island Sound is not very far, so high and low tides are quite noticeable. The tide was out when I got down to water and I thought about hanging around to hear what I suspect might be some nice cracking sounds as the incoming tide shifts the ice around. One very cold winter,  I lived a block off of Riverside Drive in Manhattan and heard, from blocks away, the ice cracking on the Hudson River. Strange and alarming, almost like little bombs going off, and then exciting to be reminded of the force of nature even in that metropolis. Today I settled for the crack and crunch of a little frozen puddle beneath my shoe.

I like this walk as much for the industrial stretches as the glimpses of bird life, rose bushes and a well placed bench. It’s real like this diverse city. The Norwalk river is a working one and there are even a few barges. Not like the monsters that travel the Ohio River – another river I once lived near and am fond of. There are stone lots and an asphalt plant, stretches of the river are blocked by huge piles of dirt and machinery. Some people think all this is ugly and I guess it kind of is, but I think it more interesting than an endless view of condos even as I enjoy the benefits of their lovely open walkways. I like the grittiness. And I’m not alone. I don’t know if this huge machine works but Osprey come return here every year. See the glimpse of last year’s nest where the antenna is?

There’s also a rowing club along this stretch. I’m sometimes tempted to try this. I like the way sculls move through the water, swifter and more elegantly than my little sea kayak. In the warmer weather this stretch is often filled with rowing kids – white and wealthy judging by their private school swag and the fancy cars waiting to pick them up. It seems a shame that the neighborhood children who live by and pass over this river daily don’t get to do this stuff. To see their city from the water, sometimes making that exit into the salty mouth to the sea. What a great way to ignite imagination and a sense of possibility. Too bad it’s mostly a rich-kid sport. I think about this when I pass the big boat tent and docks. Today I didn’t see a soul.

Up river there isn’t much ice. I’m not sure why. Deeper water? The tides are not as apparent as down river. The pathway stops here so Rufus and I leave the riverbank, cutting up through the grounds of an historical museum. One day I’ll go inside but it’s never open when I pass. There’s a well maintained herb garden in and a very old cemetery. I like to read the fantastic early American names. Here it turns pretty and feels like New England. I salute these old souls as we pass through. I think about time and the land and the river. They were digging up the road nearby here not too long ago, revealing cobblestones and trolley lines. From my car I never would have seen these details, this glimpse of the past.

Back to the streets we cross the busy one to the quieter roads of the neighborhood. Sidewalks disappear when we get off the main drag so I have to stay alert. But that’s the thing about walking: I pay attention to everything. The weather, the seasons, the neighborhood. I chat with people who have other dogs or want to meet Rufus – he is very friendly. Like the tides, a great ice-breaker.

Out of Shape: A Ramble

My writing muscles have atrophied from lack of use. Here’s what happened today when I decided to sit down to blog:

I’ll wash the dishes first. Is that a cloud? I better take the laundry off the line. Phew, it’s hot! I need a cold drink. I better refill the ice tray. Now I have to pee. I’ll text Molly and see when she’s heading back from her weekend jaunt out of town. I’ll just read the first section of the newspaper…

You get the idea. In the end it took me nearly an hour to finally hunker down. This is typical these days as is using the delete key like crazy, backspacing out as many words as I write, sometimes clearing away full paragraphs so I’m facing the same blank page I began with. Left to ferment, my perpetual inner-critic has grown bigger than ever.

From lack of use, I struggle to find my voice again. And then there’s the existential part. Why do it? This is what I’ve been wrangling with.

Last autumn I experienced a big change – I felt like a rock at low tide – upended to reveal things I never imagined beneath me. I’ve yet to process it all and will not do it here except to say I ended things with the man I’d lived with for 10 years. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a brief statement about the break-up of her marriage that resonated with me. “…I trust that you understand how this is a story that I am living—not a story that I am telling.” I can write about my late husband because he’s dead and because my daughter’s okay with it. Thanks to the gift of time, I do so from a loving place. But this new chapter in my life, put my writing life on pause.

Did you see Everything is Copy the excellent documentary about Nora Ephron by her son? I flinched more than once at how meanly, even if brilliantly, she wrote about people in her life that she’d once cared for. I don’t have the stomach for inflicting pain with my writing. My blog once went ‘viral’ read by thousands a day for a few days. Part of the blog was critical about someone I didn’t know, who I never imagined would read it since I usually had only a few dozen followers. My thrill at having so many hits was eclipsed by a sick feeling when the person (not identifiable except to her) read it and let me know. I was mortified, deleted the reference and still feel badly. I could never be a critic! And where does that leave me as a writer, period? Am I brave enough to write without restraint? I grapple with that.

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Then there are safer subjects – my meanders through the world, observing nature through the seasons. Without the sweet ritual of morning walks with Tetley who died in early Spring, I have floundered. My quiet time out on the street at the beginning, the end of the day, to look at the sky, smell the change of seasons, search for the songbird in the wood, feel the grit or slip under my feet. This discipline put me in a good place to write from – all senses alert. I miss that, but no I’m not ready for another dog. For one, it’s not fair to leave a dog alone all day and I haven’t won the lottery yet and must keep my day job.

Why write? Why blog? Even an inkling of those questions will halt my presses and the less I wrote these last months, the more I questioned.

I started this blog years ago on the advice of someone in publishing who said I should ‘establish an internet presence’. Initially I was reluctant thinking it self-indulgent. I hesitated to reveal myself to complete strangers – or even friends. Ironic since I’m also flogging my very personal memoir.

But in blogging I discovered the joy of being read. And of reading other blogs. And the tremendous benefit in regularly excavating, spewing and honing and finally letting go of something, surrendering it to the world.

Ultimately I know getting in shape is like any exercise: it’s about discipline. I also know it’s worth it. When I am in the flow of writing a piece, even if only for 30 minutes before going to work, I get to carry it with me as I go about my day, incubating my piece. It almost feels physical – a sense of well being, excitement.

That’s it, I guess – why I write at all. I feel better for living a creative life. In examining the unexpected world beneath that rock at low tide, I learn things about myself. Writing helps me figure out where I am, where I to go. Sometimes I think you, my dear readers, find it interesting too. I cherish that and frankly – wouldn’t do it without you.

A Good Start: On Dreams and Meditation

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I would like to do a better job of remembering my dreams. I rarely do. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks – telling myself pre-sleep: “remember your dream!” Nothing. At best, I manage a snippet. My intention is to learn more about my subconscious, to improve my discernment in every sense of that word. I’m tired of making the same mistakes in my life but if I don’t understand where they come from, I probably will. Hey, it’s only taken me to the other side of 50 to fully embrace this idea. Better late than never, right?

Recently, a pretty mundane remembered dream-scene inspired me to start meditating again — a discipline that in the past has been helpful. In my dream, I am searching for a different wake-up sound on my alarm clock, something besides my usual bird twitters. While the choices on my real clock has only said bird sounds, rushing water (effective perhaps in hurrying one to the bathroom) or horrible beeping noises, my dream clock included the mesmerizing chants of Tibetan monks. In my dream state, of course I choose to be woken by this chanting.

And when I actually woke and (eureka!) remembered this, I took it as very clear guidance. Wouldn’t you? Now, when my electrically tweeting birds wake me, I hit snooze but instead of burrowing deeper into my pillow, I scoot up into a lotus position and for 10 minutes or so until the birds start singing again, I focus on breathing, on silence. With each inhale I imagine filling up a reservoir of peace that might sustain me through the day.

Sitting for a few moments after opening my eyes, I like to observe the night change to day. This week, mornings were either shrouded in fog or spectacularly red – once in particular, the world beyond my windows seemed on fire, the crazy reds almost tangible so densely did they fill the atmosphere. In half-consciousness, I basked in those magic rose hues until they were absorbed into the normal light of a day. A good start.

Do you remember your dreams?

In Praise of Dark Mornings and a Vote Against #DaylightSavingTime

Tetley shoots out the door ahead of me, barking at shadows cast by streetlights and a waning Moon. Dark mornings extend my dream state as I move almost immediately from bed into the street with a coat thrown over my pajamas, a hood pulled over uncombed hair. Recently my breath is visible in the chill.

tetley in leaves

Last week Venus, Jupiter and Mars gathered each morning like a gossiping trio on the Eastern horizon, a bonus for my early ritual of searching the still-dark sky for the glow of planets, lingering stars, a sliver or a some part of the Moon. Seeing these wonders gets me thinking about being on planet Earth, part of an extraordinary balancing act and the thought simultaneously dizzies and centers me. Breathing, shivering in the cold of a dark morning, I feel intrinsically part of the magnificence – one of billions on this incredible, flawed place in the universe with other spinning planets and stars.

The night sky at morning gives me a bigger jolt than any cup of caffeine, setting the stage for my day – a glimpse of something bigger than myself before I get sucked into daily requirements.

We turned the clocks back last night. I’ll miss my mornings in the dark.

How do you feel about Daylight Saving Time?

A Summer Sunday Morning

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I love the light of a Summer morning, remarkable through the greens and yellows of the trees. And the sounds, different on a Sunday. While not visible from here, the noise from I-95  is constant at this hour, just a hum from a stream of mostly cars with rare moments of quiet when no one seems to be passing. So much anonymous humanity passing.  Going or leaving home? So many imagined stories vibrating through the trees.

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A cool breeze blows and for a moment, feels almost Autumnal. As if on cue, a Mourning Dove coos – a sing-song call of melancholy as Summer days disappear, the sun shifting closer towards the opposite end of earth. I used to feel desperate when the warmth and light began this slip away but have grown to appreciate the change. I don’t like being cold and prefer the light to dark – but savor the warmth of my home, the fireplace and longer hours to read and reflect. There’s something about the warmer months that makes me feel like I must DO. And I like DOing nothing quite a bit. Well, not exactly nothing – but sedentary things like reading and writing. Winter is good for that.

Summer is a time to get things done outside and we’ve been productive around here recently. Four trips to the dump last weekend, taking away piles of rotting wood and leaves that sat in corners of our yard for too long. It’s been dry, so there’s always watering to be done – a task I enjoy. And my Zinnias are lovely.

zinnias

From where I sit now, I look past cluttered table (remember – it’s a good time for outside tasks!) to 3 windows. To my left I look out at a new Hydrangea planted last weekend. Straight ahead, onto our little porch and the laundry line. A perfect day for drying clothes in the sun – the air dry and fresh. I’ll get a load in soon. We’re just high enough to catch a breeze and so many trees surround us that we have our own little microclimate a few degrees cooler than anywhere else in the neighborhood. To the right, out the living room window I see a branch of the Butterfly bush that could use a good session of deadheading and through the canopy of leaves, a patch of still Summer sky.

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If You Know What’s Good For You…

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I get up at 5:30 on weekdays and about 7:00 on weekends. I’ve been doing this for the past few years so I can write for about an hour before taking care of required life business. Too often, instead of writing I do the following:

  • Water the garden
  • Pick blueberries from the yard (okay, this is lovely, right?)
  • Check emails – mostly from Talbots, Lord & Taylor, J. Jill, Real Beauty (??) – I never shop at any of these places
  • Look at Facebook posts
  • Read other people’s blog posts
  • Clean the kitchen
  • Grocery shop before the weekend hordes descend
  • Read the newspaper
  • Cook
  • Laundry

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Yes, a few of these are necessary, constructive and nourishing things to do. But this is supposed to be my writing time. Why don’t I honor that? Why am I distracted by nonsense?

If I write at the very beginning of the day, I get to walk around all day with a happy secret practically humming inside of me. It’s beautiful. I can physically locate that good feeling right below my ribs. Yes, as I sit here I feel like I’m charging my Solar Plexus – like I’ve got a little Sun in there glowing brighter as I put words to page.

Only in writing this today did I realize the physicality of what happens to me when I write, that I can actually locate a place in my body (besides my stiff shoulders) where I feel this. Of course I had to step away for a minute for a little (distraction??) online research and found this on balancechakra.com:

Solar Plexus Chakra – Manipura

The Solar Plexus Chakra is a center of personal strength, learning and comprehension. It guides you through life by creating a strong sense of self, setting personal boundaries and building self esteem and willpower. The ability to bring change into your life and to the world is born within this Chakra.

No wonder starting the day by writing feels good! I’m feeling my Solar Plexus, baby!

So why do I procrastinate rather than head directly to a beautiful accessible place? Do I need to look at those pictures of Amal and George Clooney instead? Really?

Yes, I do shit like that. Do you?

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?