Ruminations on the Holidays and a Retail Life

This year I received a pin marking my 15th year working for my company. How lucky am I to have a job I love for all of these years? It’s just around this time of year – working in a store is tough. Look – if I won the lottery today I’d still work through the holiday season rather than leave my dear colleagues in the lurch. But I would be joyous – not only because of my great winnings (I have a rich fantasy life) but because, it would be my last. Fifteen years of my 17 year old daughter’s life around the holidays, have been experienced through the prism of me in retail insanity. I mostly come home exhausted and full of bah-hum-bug, a grouchy cookie baker, reluctant to listen to yet more Christmas music. Poor kid.

Don’t get me wrong — there are parts of the madness I love. It’s great to have the bookstore bustling with energy, readers delighting in discovering new books. What I don’t enjoy is the sense of exaggerated emergency that seems to linger like a frost from ‘Black Friday’ until New Year’s. It’s like everyone has imbibed too much coffee. This year, that amped-up feeling seems even more intense around here because of Sandy the hurricane, everyone is scrambling, anxiety twisting our gut.

I hate that feeling. And I wonder why I am susceptible to it? I have lived through real emergencies and know to my core that not being able to get the right book on time hardly counts as one. This manic-mode is not necessary, nor even helpful – yet, here I go again.

But not yet. Today is Thanksgiving and — I do give thanks. After roasting vegetables, making another pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce and green beans, the three of us will walk across the street to celebrate with our dear friends. I’ll do my best to hang on to the sweetness of this shared celebration – to seize this day as the start of a busy, but mellow and joyous holiday season. Because who knows – I still might win the lottery.

Look What Happened!

Not so long ago, the age I am now seemed impossibly old. But I don’t feel old. I refuse to join the AARP – not yet. Still, I have to face it – I am aging – and mostly, it’s okay.

My gray hair doesn’t bother me much and is easy to camouflage; a bout of vanity hits every six months or so and I get highlights. Although the occasional joint gets achey, especially my hips, and sometimes my back threatens to act up, but I blame that on too much sitting at work. Immediately reviving my erratic yoga practice gets me back to normal. I’m pretty fit and my weight is good. I’ve cut way back on how many glasses of wine I imbibe and I mostly get enough sleep. But look what I discovered last week —

This is my mouth in repose. Okay, the jowly bits are an unfortunate family trait, but I’ve already had a few decades to get used to them.  The pinched look of my lips isn’t the worst of it, although it is as if my flesh is drawing inwards to better secure my teeth (getting long) in my mouth. The general slackness of my skin is also not very attractive, but still, that’s not what disturbs me.

What upsets me is that when I am in thought, just going about my day, walking down the street, driving my car, RIGHT NOW, my mouth settles into a doleful expression. Look! In a few more years, mine will look like a marionette’s mouth, with lines creeping down along either side of my chin.  How did this happen? In spite of quite a few years of incredible stress and sadness, I am a happy person. And yet, there it is: when I am in an unselfconscious state, mine is a sad face.

I suspect the state of my mouth disturbs me more because it reminds me of my mother’s. From a way-too-early age, my mother internalized and defined herself by unhappiness. She certainly had her own, but she also glommed onto other’s losses and betrayals, almost taking pleasure in co-opting their tragedies as her own to grieve, to tell. My mother died at 64. That’s only 10 year more years for me. I am determined to keep smiling through whatever I have left.

So if you see me with a foolish grin on my face, I may be thinking of something funny or I might just be doing mouth calisthenics. I want my face to reflect my joy and damn gravity!

Worldly Distractions (and my new i-phone)

The cup of tea on the table behind me grows cold, the ceiling needs painting, my finger throbs from yesterday’s accidental slicing, there is too much pressure on my right ankle sitting cross-legged like this, my stomach is grumbling – is there yogurt left? A glimpse of my (short) meditation session this morning. And exactly why I feel the need to ‘sit’: to train myself, establish a discipline, reel my mind in from tasks and toys around me with the hope I can find my way to the quiet place within. That place where creativity and serenity can be found.

And yet – yesterday I traded in my sturdy text-and-talk-only-telephone for a (free) i-phone (‘4’ in case you are wondering). My thinking is that this amazing gadget might be just the tool to keep me in my morning ‘writerly’ mode throughout the day. Any time inspiration strikes, I can whip out my phone and blog, take photos, make notes. That’s the idea. Ha.

The thing is, my most disciplined and focused writing has been done on an ancient laptop with no internet capability. No distractions. Dark mornings, when I turned on my computer, I immediately began writing. I did not check emails, Facebook, the news headlines, the gossip, my blog-stats, other blogs… you get the idea.

Endless cyber offerings lure me away from the quiet place where creative juices brew, devouring my time, numbing my brain – and yet, resisting is so difficult. And now, with my cool new 21st century phone, these enticements are available to me anywhere, anytime… What have I done?

To Sit, To Breathe

Look what I found at a tag sale yesterday:

I’ve been thinking about meditation recently so this little zabuton is the perfect inspiration to get my ass positioned for a ‘sit’.  Reasons to do so are plentiful: relieves stress, inspires creativity and general well being.

Meditation is one of those things that I’m never sure I’m doing right. (Kind of how I often feel about writing…) Rationally, I know that this is nonsense-thinking, but still I doubt myself and I think I should really learn how do to this from a teacher. And then I remember Taniguchi-san.

In Kyoto in the 1980s, I met a Buddhist monk on a bus and we became friends. I initiated a conversation with the kind looking elderly man beside me (he was not in his robes so I had no idea he was a monk) because I was intrigued by the book he was looking at of these amazing little stone sculptures.

While in Kyoto, I fancied myself a sculptor and was so excited by these expressive, wacky looking little figures all lined up in endless rows that I said, “Summimasen, doko deska?” while pointing to his book.  Turns out, these nembustu were at a temple in Arashiyama not so far away. He introduced himself  as a monk who lived at a another beautiful temple and offered to take me to this place. Of course, I gleefully accepted his generous invitation.

A week later I met Taniguchi-san at his temple, Myoshinji .

We mounted bicycles and I pedaled furiously behind this 70+ year old gem, marveling for the millionth time at the wonderfulness of Kyoto. I’d been living there for over 3 years and had recently decided to move on.  Before I left, my new friend Taniguchi-san gave me a crash-course in meditating.

I met him on a beautiful spring day at Miyoshinji temple again and this time, I followed him inside to his quarters past simple gardens, silent but for the crunch of gravel beneath our feet, bees as we passed the cherry blossoms, buzzing in what seemed a chant. In a simple tatami mat room, Taniguchi-san talked about breath and paying attention.  Mind you, my Japanese was not great and he spoke only a smattering of English.  I searched my journals this morning to see if I’d made notes and found nothing. But I do have this:

As a parting gift, Taniguchi-san gave me this lovely stone – explaining I might, with eyes just ever-so-slightly open, focus on this rock. He knew I’d been inspired to come to Japan because of the rock gardens. For over 20 years this precious piece has graced my bureau.  I blew the dust off  setting off ripples of recollection as if this old stone had been tossed into the depths of my mind.  A cushion, a rock, a lesson remembered.  A return to breath.

Don’t Go to Bed Angry – A Lesson Remembered

Anger should not be allowed in bed at night.  Instead of disappearing into a blissful dream state, the grinding of my teeth is the only unconsciousness happening. Snippy sentences replay over and over, pithier responses conjured. Dogs I didn’t know existed bark relentlessly at distant thunder rumbles. When I finally manage to slip away, it’s into terrible dreams of violence.

I know this, but still paused only for a moment the other night before dramatically pushing the bedroom door shut. Rather than take a few minutes to end the ill-timed tiff with my daughter, I climbed beneath the sheets in a huff.  Our squabble was stupid, triggered by school work left to the last minute and made worse by computer failure. But my anger was too hot to touch and besides, I felt right. What a waste of good slumber.

In the morning, I woke from my non-sleep with shame and brought my beloved daughter an offering of tea and an apology. A few minutes later, she appeared downstairs with her own words of regret and a hug. Peace again. The only way to go.

Summer Torpor Respite

Steamy-hot days seem to wilt everything but the weeds. What’s left of my vegetable garden is being swallowed by renegade grasses and the border of browning hostas and now-skeletal daylillies is barely visible behind pigweed and chokecherry.  The unruly mess of my garden taunts me as I search out a shady spot and a breeze to read the paper. I should weed-wack, mow, clip… but just can’t. Yesterday, it was almost 3 by the time we rallied enough out of our torpor to take the kayak out. We agreed we’d only loll about near a sandbar — no paddling out to the islands. So that’s what we did.

A patch of bliss.

We have a favorite spot not even 10 minutes from our launch — a teeny island that disappears with high tide. Yesterday, the timing was right and our sweet patch was there to welcome us. As planned, we lolled about: floating in the salty shallows, stepping across sandy boulders.

Breezes sent an occasional wave of chatter through the sea grass, a pair of terns swooped through with flirty calls, punctuated by plaintive screeches of the odd gulls. As we stood on the still-wet rocks and watched the Sound move out and the sun go down, the rocky stretch exploded with mini-geysers. Clams! Alas, faster than we could dig with our hands through the rocky muck, they disappeared. Next time, we’ll bring a spade.

The grittier view that reminds us where we live.

A Lesson in Relaxation at Half-Price

I know I’ve mentioned before that indulging does not come easily to me. I wonder if it is an Irish thing? Or Catholic or a class phenomenon?  Maybe if I had lots of money, I’d think less of spending $100-plus to make myself feel good. But maybe not. Still, I’d have to carve out the time to get pampered. That’s what’s hard for me — there’s so much else to do, so much else that’s needed… and that little voice says, “really?” I suspect it’s genetic. My sister shares this quality and we sometimes discuss it.  I recall proudly giving my mother a gift certificate for a spa treatment only to see it gather dust on her cluttered dresser past expiration. But I’m determined to reform and this is easier at half-price.

Recently I took advantage of such a deal from  Born of Earth where Heidi gave me a magical massage.  We began the session chatting pleasantly, (Something else I feel compelled to do — like I need to entertain the person working on me while they probably want me to shut up and just get on with it.) but after a few minutes, Heidi wordlessly silenced me. Her power – her ability to converse through her hands with a sense of healing beyond language. With her first touch she found the clench and ache of twisted muscles tucked beneath shoulder blades and running along my spine.

When my hour was up I floated out of the salon to my car where I sat for a few moments feeling too inebriated to drive. A lesson beautifully learned and next time, I’ll even spring for full price.


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