Monday, August 30, 2010

Widening reflection

It’s a time of reflection.  A time to run fingertips over frayed edges, smoothing sharp words tied with wounded connections.  We poke thru attic boxes of mistakes, dusting off lessons for improvements, yearning to do better, master old mistakes, and avoid familiar stumbling blocks in the year to come.

But reflection isn’t limited to digging up remorse and voicing apologies we hope stand in for healing.  It is also a time for celebration, for polishing snippets of kindness and soaking in the rays of displayed compassion.  It is a time to hold up our successes and relish in the rainbows cast upon our days.  Searching for the risks taken, regardless of outcome, we award minutes of courage, steps taken toward whispered dreams, and catalogue the paths we blazed as we carved out space to be real.  It is a time to celebrate events of becoming who we were created to be. 

These introspective weeks include listing shared laughter and extended hands, looking back upon sweet smiles, never knowing how far our ripples extend.  I reflect on deeper friendships formed and explore crevices of familial love, filling scrapbooks with snapshots of a worthwhile life. 

This is a time of looking back, regretting our failures and making amends for spurred tears.  But no year is composed solely of “If only I had...” and “I should have...” and “I could have done better”.  Yes, we aim higher, brush off our motivation and renew commitments to don our best selves.  But we also must celebrate the distances we’ve advanced and applaud our baby steps.  Celebrate the volumes of hugs and hopes not abandoned.  I must stop being small in my introspection, limited to self-flagellation and guilt.  I widen these days before the New Year and remember to rejoice the truth that I, like everyone, add something irreplaceable to the world.  So I mourn shortcomings and apologize for my falls, and I remember to be grateful for gifts given and received. 

I reflect largely this year, with remorse and joy, using a panoramic lens as I embark on a bigger life. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

floor-plans laid upon clouds

I’m dreaming of granite countertops and stainless steel.  Utopias complete with an overstuffed chair in a library room, a wooden ladder sliding across shelves stuffed with leather-bound masterpieces.  I wish for new blinds on soundproof windows, breezes cooling off a room without the roar of traffic in the background.  I picture small gardens with space for planting, grass for my puppy to play, and a hammock nestled between shady oaks.  With my magic wand, I create the swimming pool and patio table, filling padded chairs with friends to share the late summer evenings.  I coat my walls with color, vibrant and muted, character in the arches and sweet touches for the drawer knobs.  There is a washer and dryer right in my own place, no quarters required, and shower heads that pound the stress away at night.  In my dreams. 

Let’s be clear.  I don’t even need grandeur.  I’d be happy with a tiny cottage, one room, kitchen, bathroom, and backyard – if it was a home I could call me own.  Or even my own for this one-year lease.  Or if I have to compromise, a 1-bedroom apartment will work (obviously, we’ll make the bedroom the library, let’s not give up all our dreams) but something without trash lining the streets, neighbors who stomp up the stairs at 2 am, firehouses next door, and rusted sinks in old buildings. 

So I keep looking.  After a while, all of the apartments start to look the same.  Hardwood floors or carpet, drawers that don’t quite close, fresh paint, and empty closets.  There are the pre-requisite screens with holes and showers that dribble, fridges – apparently in LA apartments don’t often come with them!– that I mentally line with Cosco size boxes of baking soda.  But this business of moving is hard work.  I find it’s really a full time job, making me wonder what people do who actually have a job where there are expected to show up from 9-5? Lucky enough to be able to put some of my writing on hold while still working on others, I have been promoted this week to ‘Apartment Hunter’. I am in training as expert Westside Rental user and have developed a master code system for my notes.  It’s like that game: drawing a line from which ammenities match which address.  I take a deep breath before I crack open the next possibility, armed with blank paper for coded notes to ponder later: p, pool, L, no grass... at night, I’m lucky when I can crack my own code, struggling the remember why I initially said no to #1475 until I end up revisiting the same rooms to have a fresh comparison.

And I know, there’s not a huge rush, aside from the toxic mold where I currently reside, and that I should keep looking until I find the right one.  Ok, but here’s another snag.  Often the one I love doesn’t allow dogs or has no grass, so not the right one for Gracie.  And I promise I could find the perfect apartment today if I let myself roam the entire store instead of limiting myself to the sale rack.  But without a millionaire’s salary, one shouldn’t sign leases for a millionaire’s budget.  So it’s back to the mapquesting new locations and looking a bit more.  However, at some point in the very, very near future, I’m cutting myself off.  The mental health cost of endless searching and watching ones I had almost chosen get rented and searching some more trumps this imaginary perfect apartment.  I’ve decided it’s like the unicorn.  Maybe it’s out there somewhere with a “Welcome Home Lauren” sign on the mailbox, and I just haven’t looked hard enough. Or maybe I could spend my day’s entire apartment hunting until they all blur into one mess of a hassle, and I end up opting for a lovely cardboard box in the woods.  (Still, lined with booked, because a girl needs a library)

For today, I’ll fight the urge to just choose the best of what I’ve seen in order to pack up the game, and I’ll keep looking a bit more. 

 If I could just get the gardenia bushes and plush carpeting out of my dreams, it would at least allow the reality-based apartments to enter the playing field. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

For no good reason

I Love Manatees Banner
I don’t know how it started and I don’t know why, but I have a thing for manatees.  I simply adore them.  And it appears that I’m not the only one.  But what is it about these gentle sea cows that make them so lovable? I’ve never seen one in person nor can they cuddle with me at night like my puppy.  But somehow I’ve created this persona for them – a kind of snuffleupagus (yes, that’s actually how the Muppet’s name is spelled) meets Andre the Giant, innocently loping through the waves peacefully.  Still, there are plenty of endangered species to be passionate about, and I’m sure I could find ones that rank higher on the cuteness scale.  Yet, ever since I was in the 4th grade writing poems about Manatees, I’ve been a fan.

My love of manatees falls into the category of simplicity, adoring them from afar for no good reason, just because I can’t look at a picture without smiling.  I find there aren’t many things I support without explanations, justifications, and rationales.  Usually, I have proof and evidence, anecdotes and personal experiences.  But with the manatees, I merely adore their rounded noses and oversized eyes. I don’t march for their protection or even really know that much about them. They just tickle my fancy, and I’m perfectly happy to leave it at that.  We could always use more things that make us smile for no good reason.  It keeps my mouth limber and dashes my spirit with whimsy. 

So for today, I’m dreaming of swimming with the manatees.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I snapped

It was days ago but still nibbles at my conscience.  I snapped.  I snapped out of guilt and my mulish inability to admit weakness.  I snapped because I knew she was right, knew I agreed, and yet was a sucker for instant gratification.  I snapped simply because I wanted a cup of coffee despite given it up weeks ago.  I snapped as a disguise of vulnerability because holes in strength here hints at chasms on my soul, unveiling dire splinters in the show of ‘I’ve got everything under control’.  I snapped because I like to be right...and because I knew I wasn’t.  I snapped out of shame, the knowledge that I was not walking my own walk.  I snapped as I ate my prior claims and taught by actions that my words should be suspect, fluffy promises that blow into whispers at the first shadow of pain.

I snapped for all of the unsaid retorts, held-tongue moments, caught glances, and disapproving brows over the past week.  I snapped for the child that pokes through snags in my adult cloak, for the challenge of coming home without allowing my feet to slip from equal ground.  I snapped on impulse and immediately paid homage to the king of regret, desperately aiming to smooth bruised feathers without seeming obvious.  I hate snapping.  I hate that part that reacts in a flash; the porcupine spikes that line my truth with brick defenses long expired.  I hate the harsh edges that slice innocent intentions and usually show up for air with those I love the most.

I wish I were always sweet, easy, softly kind and patient, sinews of a best self missing a shadow side.  In other words, I wish I wasn’t human.  I wish for perfection while forgetting the complexities that compose my sonata, weaknesses that add depth, and emotions that transform the 2 dimensional into a twirling, glittering soul. I forget the shortcomings open doors for growth and vulnerability bridges connections.  I forget that I have a universal choice. I can limit all interactions to sound bites of shiny niceness or float in the lull of togetherness long enough that pruney fingers emerge exposed.  It’s easy to sit pretty for sips of time, but it’s a lonely life behind glass doors.

The real gift is when we can be real; swapping laughter with irritation, disappointments with hugs, and pearls for pjs.  The true connections come with snapping and apologies, frustrations and forgiveness. Like the velveteen rabbit who only becomes real once he is shabby and worn, I have to believe I am cherished because of my missing whiskers and matted fur instead of despite my stuffing poking out.  It is in the real that I allow myself to be loved in, held in the rain, and to learn to accept my human parts. 

I snapped because I am human. I apologized because I care.  And I let it go in efforts of acceptance. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'll Be Right Back, I Promise

I hand over her leash and whisper promises to be back soon, so soon, just a few hours, really, I promise.  But she doesn’t believe me, instead peering at me with mournful puppy eyes, pleading to avoid the impending abandonment.  I can’t explain that it’s for her own good, that she’ll be cooler in the summer sun after her haircut.  I can’t explain that I’m not leaving, that I’m still here, just a few blocks away, waiting for the call that summons me back to her side.  I can’t explain as she twists to watch me walk out the door, believing that now she is left behind, forgotten.

I could chalk it up to her being a dog, and shake off my guilt while I know the end result.  But it doesn’t change the facts.  She can’t see me and therefore thinks I don’t care.  But we’re not so different, my puppy and I.  How easy is it to question G-d in times of darkness, demanding answers to His absence, believing that tear laden moments found me sitting alone.  And yet, I also can’t understand the greater picture.  I don’t know the justifications for struggle or the glory of the finished masterpiece.  And just like her, I trip into the belief that what I can’t see has ceased to exist. 

In a review of the past year, I am quick to acknowledge human hugs and kind shoulders that soothed.  I list family as my blessings and teachers of all kinds who splash color upon my symphony.  But it’s easy for me to credit the concrete, and dismiss G-d as absent, uncaring, having bigger issues to deal with.  It’s easy to forget that even when I feel the most alone, He might just be waiting outside the door, weeping in tandem, and waiting for my call to return.  I know the things that I balk at are usually the very things that offer the greatest gifts.  I know that my most feared deliver the largest rewards.  I know when my instinct is to politely decline, to opt for my status quo, to swim only within my comfort zone, the path to a bigger life means doing the opposite.  I know that climbing the challenge is for my own good, and yet I still linger at the bottom, wanting proof of the mountaintop prize before I begin my ascend.  

And I know that a weaker G-d could carry me, saving me from my pain.  But it wouldn’t be kind.  Instead I would reach the peak with backpacks of tears, never learning how to sprinkle them by my side like wildflowers.  I would never experience the thrill of independence or the rush of struggle followed by success.  I would remain lame, dependent, blind to my own power and potential.  But I also bet that were a ray of sunshine to illuminate my darkest moments, if I glanced around the corner, I’d find Holiness silently cheering me on, itching for the moment to rejoin my side. 

I don’t walk through my days floating on air, or carry with me the constant knowledge that G-d is by my side.  I often believe I have to handle it alone, deal with it myself, and gather up my broken parts to pick myself up by my bootstraps.  I forget that I can ask for help.  I forget that holiness shines through the eyes of loved ones.  I forget that I am only truly alone if I turn my back on life.  I forget that sight doesn’t prove existence, and I forget that I don’t always know what’s best for me. 

So as I glance at the clock and wait to pick up my puppy, hoping to prove to her, “see? I came back.  It wasn’t so bad.  Aren’t you glad you went? See? I promised I’d be back and here I am.” But she’s a dog, and we’ll go through the same routine the next time I walk out the door and leave her at home. 

And I hope that I remember to trust in the invisible, rely on my inner knowing, and have faith that tears might hold blessings.  I hope I remember that just because I can’t see G-d, doesn’t mean that He’s not waiting around the corner, hurting for me but focused on the grander of the finished masterpiece. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lauren's Landing

Perched on the shore I staked as my own, I sit solidly upon a lake that churns with impatient waves.  My seat upon the wooden boards holds me steady, bolstered on its underbelly with rocks laid by the same fatherly hands that bless my head on Friday evenings.  Guided by the wooden sign to “Lauren’s Landing”, my mom created the sign to create a sacred room of my own in their Canadian cottage.  I follow her directions infused with her wisdom, led by her love to this place of peace.  It’s my last day at their cottage and the clouds protest my departure while simultaneously, the winds push me to soar from the nest back to my everyday world. It’s time to go home, time to mark the milestones and log the sweetness as we wave goodbye.  It’s time to dig out my suitcase, exiting while there’s still applause ringing in our ears.

It’s been 24 months since I last sat on this landing, and a lifetime has passed in the interim.  How far we’ve come... The inevitably irritations noted and then let go, the old scars have poked through our tougher skin at times, but now soothed with a kiss as we’ve learned how to love despite flaws, and cherish amidst disagreements.  We are 3 adults, and 12 days together are bound to result in a few stubbed toes and bruised egos.  But there is beauty in our persistence.  ‘I’m sorry’ comes easier now, and ‘I love you’ was never our struggle.  Sure we had our tense moments holding our breath until the air dissipated, but we always found our way back into the sunshine.  On a balance sheet, this week tips in favor of joy.  There were the main events: forest hiking, canoeing, sailing, local theatre, and twilight hot tub soaks.  But the highlights are always seen only with the heart and ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye’ (from The Little Prince).

I fold the exhalations of contentment and easy silence on the dock into my luggage.  I lay the shared glances of history and inside jokes aside the reassuring goodnight hugs.  I tuck the glide of lake swims between lessons on braiding a 6-strand challah.  I collect the minutes of understanding and the quiet acceptance of our individuality, making sure not the crush the unconditional love that lines the corners of my ragged suitcase.  There are blessings up here that shimmer because of rather than despite their ordinariness. The sweetness of waking up to a duo chanting Hebrew melodies, the way old frustrations sizzle with compromise on both sides, the mellowing, wisdom, and gentler pace that lulls us all into a dance of peaceful relaxation.  I count my blessings among the sole lily flower and the dip of the kayak paddle, the visits with friends who rush with open arms and the pj-clad breakfasts around our green wooden table, the lazy evenings in this cozy building you have transformed into a home.

We’ve come a long way to sit side by side on this dock, and I am grateful for the gift of this trip, the knowledge that travel is well worth the stress, and the absolute surety that I have a family who exceeds its very definition.  Family means more than shared genes and childhood memories.  It also is the steady support, familiar comfort, and the eternal knowledge that I will never have to be a team of one. 

Thank you for the 12 days, the hospitality, and the willingness to celebrate despite the fear and to love well before perfection.  Thank you for offering your oasis of peace and shuffling your routine to make space for my craziness as well as my smile.  Thank you for the patience and advice.  Thank you for the small wooden perch upon the shore that beckons me with balance as I pocket the calm I have found here, and thank you for reminding me that vacation is worth fighting for, and that change brings unexpected delights.  Thank you for sharing your cottage and your joy.  Thank you. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perpetual Student

If I could figure out a way to fund it, I wouldn’t hesitate to enroll.  I proposed the idea to my parents as an undergraduate, but they didn’t warm to the idea.  Still, my dream job? Being an eternal student.  Ah, yes.  What could be better? Perhaps you don’t agree with my romantic notions of libraries and essays, lectures and philosophical debates argued over bottomless cups of coffee in cafes at midnight.  Perhaps I’m showing my nerdish underbelly, my hunger for more: more knowledge, more ideas, more learning to furnish my inner bookshelves. 

But there is something magical about walking on to a college campus.  There is history woven between cobblestone paths and innovation lurks above dusty chalkboards.  Rooms filled with uncomfortable desks exude possibility, a promise of dreams come true, and hints of answers to nagging questions.  I miss being a student.  I research the best California universities, US News Ranking and Reviews: Best Colleges, Lists, browse websites of top universities, and scroll through continuing education course schedules.  I drool over syllabi and required book lists, jotting down classes I’ll never take, like a kid in a candy shop making a wish list. 

I hear it too – today’s undergraduate degree means nothing, master’s degrees don’t buy employment, PhD’s can be bought on the Internet and completed within a week.  I see proof of the stakes being raised, a BA no longer adequate but merely a stepping-stone to more courses, further education, and longer lists of letters after your name.  I’m sure it’s partly true.  My master’s degree often hurts more than it helps – making me ‘overqualified’ for positions and under qualified for others.  But my student lust doesn’t care.  I don’t crave course work and late night cramming sessions for the end result.  I crave them for the experience.  I miss the atmosphere of learning, the circular conversations pondering life’s mysteries; the dorms littered with fliers of rallies, lectures, and back room concerts.  I miss the transformation into the known, the journey of textbooks filled with meaningless jargon that becomes personal, understood, and deep once the class is completed.  I miss study groups in the library; amidst stacks of history, fiction, psychology, and science...tomes stuffed onto shelves, offering forgotten concepts swirled with revolutionary breakthroughs.

I know I have selective recall.  I choose to ignore the anxiety before exams, the pressure of essay due dates, and the panic at being called on in front of 300 other students.  I brush off the gnawing worry of ‘What to do when I grow up’, and the bitter aftertaste of ‘So, what’s your major?’  I forget about all-nighters fueled by coffee and stress, keg stands located outside my dorm room on a Tuesday night, and the competition to achieve the most, winning by triple-majoring with 2 minors.  I know it’s a package deal, but I can’t help but wish for simpler days built upon semesters and summer break, filled with the promise of answers, propelled by a love of learning simply for the sake of learning.  

So I collect course listings and bookmark Southern California university sites (University of Redlands) (UCLA Extension Courses). I discover new topics to study, new pockets of interest, and fresh ideas to ponder.  I become my own teacher, checking out library books and reading articles to flesh out my syllabus.  I integrate college into my adultish life, and strive to walk about my days with the eyes of a student.  It’s not quite the same, minus brick paths and clothing dusted with chalk.  It lacks the crowded coffee shops crammed with textbooks and laptops, silent students armed with highlighters and espresso. 

But learning doesn’t have to end at graduation.  Education isn’t limited to classrooms and final grades.  I can enroll in my life, and find teachers along my way.  I can tote new ideas in my purse and spark debates from my living room.  I sign up for lectures and stretch for innovation.  I will always be a student, searching for answers.  I will always be a student, and even better, a student without exams and report cards. 

I get to be a student who studies for the sake of knowing, and learns simply for the love to learning.  Ah, the life of a student. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Abandoning Discovery

I spent years of research, trekking new trails, scanning fresh shorelines.  I marched past enemy lines and lugged my baggage upon bowed shoulders, seeking ultimate answers.  I was on a quest to discover.  Titles littler my bookshelves: “Find your perfect career”, “Find your self-worth”, and “Discover your purpose”.  I swapped hair colors by the week and traded flip flops for heels, testing new personas in efforts to figure out who I was, who I wanted to be, and attempting to capture dreams built on changing winds.  I read the magazines: Is he right for you? Find your perfect jeans? Introvert or Extrovert – take our 5 question quiz.  I looked outward, collecting seashells of truth in my pockets, fitting pieces together as I waited for the finale image to be revealed.  I looked outward to discover myself, scanning the scenery for hints of a well-lived life, clues that would unveil who I was and where I should place my next step.  I looked outward for discovery. 

I had it all backwards.

The world around me screams with orders: Look this way! Act this way! Carry this purse to ensure happiness! It dictates rules for living that aim to fit us all into the same narrow box of status quo.  If I heeded the chaotic tides, I’d take my place in the mass single file line, striped of individuality, an automatic pawn in pursuit of superficial pleasures, gagged to ensure toeing the line. 

It’s not about discovering who I am.  Rather, it’s a process of uncovering.  It’s beginning a different starting block, gathering mindful intentions, and then turning inward.  The answers are buried beneath the soot of errands and daily stresses, rusty after years of trying to fit into another’s’ mold. 

Uncovering is a solo quest, a return to the ancient knowing that we are all blessed with a G-dly spark, the flame of purity that whispers our answers from the heart of our soul.  I had it wrong.  There’s no need for treks and distant shores.  The horizons to explore necessitate stillness, a sweeping away of fears and hurts, shovels to unearth my core, digging to uncover my self.  I am, as we all are, complete right now, holding my answers even when I am unaware of their existence.  The jewels I search for are tucked within my history, solutions emanating from a deeper knowing.  Joy results from uncovering forgotten laughter and dusting off simple blessings.  Meaning shines from a glance backwards to our roots, to our loved ones, to the lands we have traveled and the lessons we have learned.  I don’t need to discover who I am.  I already know.  I simply need to remember and then have the courage to polish it off and hold it up to the sunshine. 

It’s easier to explore new destinations and seek absolution by addition: adding new identities along with trinkets, falling prey to ‘more is better’, ‘more equals happiness’ and ‘more is always the goal’.  Uncovering your own beauty relies on subtraction.  We strip away the expired rules and childhood grudges.  We erase the falsities lining our walls and focus our gaze on our inner flame.  Uncovering requires quiet patience and a willingness to retrain our eyes, a readjustment to the truth we already know, acceptance of our essential self, and a reconnection with the holiness that flickers within. We are all well schooled in discovering, urged on by the neon lights of a world that never sleeps. 

But as we strive to begin anew, to examine our lives, carefully eyeing snags needing repair for the coming year, the answers lie in turning our eyes away from distant shores.  The answers lie in uncovering our joy, excavating our soul, exposing our true self and allowing it to seep from our pores.  Now is the time to uncover.  Now is the time to remember our answers and grasp them with the strength of our soul. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bored Games

I’m usually a proponent of the “They’re called ‘bored games’ for a reason” camp.  I find the idea entertaining for a fleeting moment but then drag my feet to pick my game piece.  It’s possible that I’m scarred from childhood games ending with flung pieces and sibling temper tantrums. 

Or the marathon monopoly afternoons with my father more similar to business mergers than mere rolls of the dice: “I’ll give you park place for Atlantic Railroad for $800 with 10% interest, 2 hotels and a signed lease to not build hotels on Pennsylvania Avenue”.  I was the one who would donate my colorful bills to charity and obediently hand over my assets to my dad (Always my dad lest my younger rival garner a win...I wasn’t so sweet) in a desperate escape effort to retreat with a book.  But after decades of therapy, I’m going to assume I’m pretty scar-less in that vein. 

So I was a reluctant participant on our rainy Sunday, even though I was initially eager at the suggestion, there were definitely casual diversions tossed into the clouds right up to the first push of the buzzer.

I have found a new love, and I dare anyone not to wind up with at least a chuckle on his or her score scar while playing Cranium.  The more players the better and it doesn’t hurt to have players who allow laughing At rather than laughing With.  But between the charades, Pictionary, data facts, word puzzles, and star performances, I laugher harder than I have in the past 6 months.  The gold medal went to my brother’s ‘humdinger’ where he had to hum “Walk Like an Egyptian” until we rolled on the floor at the sound of the buzzer.  Cranium sucks you in and taps into your puddle jumping kid normally trapped beneath briefcases and chores.

Along with 2 friends who slip into our fold as if they share our genes, we debated, sculpted, sketched and had food fights for points. So Cranium definitely takes the gold, but more crucial than the glossy cards and colorful board are the players.  The fun hinged on the willingness to unleash stifled silliness and stiff parts that play, to giggle, link arms and while away the gray.

With a leap of companionship and belly laughs sipped through cards of challenge, I woke up to the fun and was blessed with an evening of laughter that makes the list of memories to live for.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Enter with Caution

It’s always a dangerous place to explore if armed with a credit card, and ironically, never more perilous than in the most expensive spot: the airport. Bookstores are my Achilles heel, the one place I shed my frugal cages and load arms with crisp pages and illuminating stories of new worlds.  But still, in this alternate universe of travel where a soda costs $3.25 and an apple must be gold-coated for the price, you would think I would keep my wallet tucked away.  

And yet, not so much.  Being early always sets off the trouble, hours to waste while aimlessly dodging crying children and tourist trinkets, I wander into the bookstore.  What if I run out of reading material? What if I don’t like the books I brought? What if I’m stuck in a cottage resigned to the plot of cereal boxes? So I stroll through aisles and pull books with abandon, hypnotized in this airport world to whip out my money with a rich man’s abandon. 

I snap out of it at the check out line as he hands me a large cloth tote bag.  You know you have a problem when the airport is giving you free gifts.  This is definitely not a good sign.  I opt to graciously take my free bag stuffed with literature in favor if ignoring my thrifty self’s inner temper tantrum.

I’m on vacation, I repeat sternly.  Vacation starts at check in so kindly shut up.  She pouts, vowing retribution upon return, as I pat my new books with relief.  Ok, I’m ready.  Armed with inspiring prose and on my ay to new shores, I breathe deeply as I buckle my seat belt.  The airport world might be overpriced and sadly missing the old smoking sections, but there is something in the air.  It is fueled by hopes of new beginnings, lingering worries of what might be, and the promise that your daily life as you know it is no longer a current option. 

For today, I choose to settle back in to the ride as I crack the cover amidst passing clouds and exhale into the beauty of landing in a fresh tomorrow. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Slanted upon Take-Off

I come to its doors primed on a tilt of anxiety, excitement, exhaustion and worry.  I travel gene seems to have passed me over and I tend to view departures from home as obstacles to be managed, routine busters threatening change and masking fun.  I nest.  I settle in.  I cherish my home base.  Still, my aversion to travel is flaw rather than asset, as I also know how spontaneity restores and loved ones wash fresh balm over dull eyes. 

I know that on principle, I want to go for the visit, crave the happy hour laughs and pj-clad breakfasts.  I want the hugs, the familiar inside jokes and arms that embrace with the knowledge of who I was long ago. I miss the weathered fingers and shared eyes.  I want to be more spur of the moment, and have to work to incorporate play, leaving post-ins on mirrors to “Have Fun” followed by “Figure out what you think is fun!”

I really want to like travel.  I drool over stories of exploring in caves and glittering seas in far away lands.  I remind myself that I’m coming back, like the 2 year old from whom out of sight ceases to exist, that my apartment and my life will be waiting for me. 

Still, the process of getting to the airport wears me out.  It starts months earlier as I mull over flights, mental gymnastics as I subtract cab time from alarm wake-up, adding security lines and dividing by cost.  I hold debates over length of trip, best arrival time, and agenda for days gone.  Right upon the ticket purchase races the buyer’s remorse complete with reminders that last until take-off: cancel newspaper, pack cell phone charger, find balance.  I make myself crazy with library runs, cleaning, arranging, and more library stops, riding on the delusion of being ultimately prepared.  I aim for every T crosses and corner swept, losing sight of the forest thru the clutter of a rushing anxiety.  I spin through evenings plotting alternative A, B, C, and escape routes, aiming for perfection as the sole solution that allows my feet to board the plane. 

And the truth never varies: my grandmother was right.  90% of what I worry about never comes to be.  The anticipation is always worse than the finale.  I forget why I’m shuffling through security lines and abandoning my safety zone.  I forget that I enjoy vacation.  It takes me a few hours, my soul time zone skewed until I can unpack and exhale.  I forget that the joy of family breeds comfort and the shine of laughter trumps band-aids.  I forget the meditation of lily pads and how the gentle lapping of a lake carries away my fears, stripping me of stale routines as it substitutes joy, making change worthwhile. 

I forget that patterns of protection expire and that my legs are still capable of hiking new dreams.  I arrive at the dock on a tilt, slanted from ordinary life, and then, under the warmth of loved ones and absence of to-do lists, I find fresh eyes, and my smile buried within the lazy vacation afternoons at the lake.

I find my balance.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Blank Screens

There are mornings when the words dance upon the keyboard and ideas bubble out from dusty edges.  There are nighttime scribbles of soft dreams and words penned in the darkness of tomorrow.  There are times with fresh eyes and tidbits generously seeping into the periphery just by walking to the corner.  There are days complete with praise and publication, emails extending validation with a ‘yes’ and finalized copy.  Copies of articles stuffed in drawers emitting the aroma of pride and exhaling into the world of writers.  There are hours of easy lines and letters matching seamlessly as they snatch a piece of my soul and make it concrete.

And then there are the other times.  The times of white screens and blinking cursors crossed out pages and disgust at overused sentiments that snag my sentences.  There are mornings of sweeping, cooking, laundry, and organizing closets to distract from the empty chair and computer that sits waiting for my creativity.  The mornings where I search for my muse amidst the chores, dragging my feet with business to justify the blank page.  I can fill days with replying to emails, paying bills, insurance wrangling, and mindless paper shuffling as I try to ignore the nagging guilt of broken rules.  Writers whom I admire, who share their secrets in books with dog-eared pages, all say the same thing: You have to write every day.  Write even when you don’t feel like it.  Just keep writing.

As if I didn’t already have enough rules littering my life with landmines, now I’m adding to the repertoire.  But it’s good advice, and it’s true – consistency and practice are always landmarks to reaching goals and honing skills.  And yet, there are days when just writing is harder than it sounds. 

I try to give myself pep talks, reading words of poetry and inspiration, stories of authors who struggled for years, wallpapering rooms with rejection letters.  I remind myself to be patient, to hang in there, and that I write to have a voice regardless of the publication at the other end.  I remember that it’s less about the publication and payment (although I’m guessing my landlord would think differently) and more about sliding down my rainbow. I try ignoring the end result, nudging my fingers toward the keyboard with loopholes of ‘it doesn’t have to be good.  You don’t have to post anything. Just write’.  I work to tamp out the guilt sparks, knowing that this brain is sold out for now. 

And I also remember to be gentle, to allow quiet nothingness, days of restoration muted for the coming of a brighter tomorrow.  I teach myself to be kind, to have a vacation without pressure to compose, to respect the process while still eyeing the prize. 

So on this morning of chilly blankness and to-do lists that shove aside lettered gems; I find my laughter in a glimpse of ‘it could be worse’ and pat myself on the back for sitting down anyway and writing with stiff fingers.
"I don’t have a particular book to propose, as I am comfortable in many areas. I’ve written a few lines below to give you my style. You can tell me what kind of book I should write."

And I’ve written a few lines below to give you my style. You can tell me which one you like as an answer to your query:
a. No
b. Hell no
c. Please direct all your future queries to the fine agents at William Morris

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Permission to Choose

I glanced over my shoulder as I said it, as if to hide from my soul.  And yet, I said it anyway.  Without handing her the gun, I quietly gave her my answer, offering an inch of permission to kill herself.  It was a subtle question, laden with cutting tears and decades of sorrow.  Under weary eyes, she begged, “Don’t you think after so long there just comes a point when it’s enough? I just don’t see things getting any better and all I want to do is be done.  You know, when living isn’t working and dying is the best solution?”

I paused as I ran through the ‘right’ answers.  I brushed by the therapist pep talks and recovery promises.  I flipped through the party lines of “Hang in there” and “Good things are just around the bend”.  I lingered at sentiments of finding gratitude and beauty in the simple, but knew that the moment they slipped from my lips, I’d join the ranks of Everyone else.  Everyone else who bustled with misunderstanding, minimizing, shoving platitudes of joy down a throat that tasted no sweetness. They meant well with motivational quotes and glass-half full instructions, and in the absence of any band-aid large enough, they really were offering all that was left.  But I also knew that urges to stop and smell the roses serve to deepen desperation when flowers fall stale and sunshine burns. 

So I gave the answer attached with leeway, an admission of not knowing what’s best for her or what the right solution is.  I said that it was her life, and maybe it was ok to close the book, and yes, I knew what it felt like to have drained your cup of life and simply want to give up.   There was a piece of my answer that was a challenge – a hope that perhaps with the permission to choose, with the power to end her life, she would choose to own it instead.  Rather than wasting breath trying to convince her to breathe, sometimes lending the rope to hang you ends up as a life raft.  But also, it was an admission of my powerlessness; the knowledge that there was absolutely nothing I could say, no point I could make, no hope I could point to that would erase the clouds from her eyes.  And I wasn’t lying.  I do believe that it is her life, and I don’t know the answers and I don’t know how to balance constant tears with the hope of tomorrow. There’s also this other truth that lurks in my throat, a reality of guilt and pain that would be left in her wake, a scar slashed upon her left-behind loved ones.

It’s her next question that sticks in my pocket and sheds murmurs along the next days.  “Are you glad that your life was saved two years ago?” “Yes” – without pausing.  And then I stop.  It’s been pantries of sickness and jars of pain, fear lining the shelves with anxiety.  If I had to catalogue amounts of time laughing versus time worrying, or add up tears over joy, maybe my answer would have to change.  And I start to feel the panic creeping in until I remember the secret. 

The secret is that joy weighs more than suffering, and moments of connection make up for days of struggle.  The secret is that you can’t itemize a life, slicing a soul to determine its worth.  The secret is that I would put up with the craziness for the laughter, knowing that tears today don’t wash away carefree yesterdays.  And as trite as it would sound, it is the little things for me.  I inhale lazy afternoons at the park and use gardenia scents as my pep talks.  Small doses of newness spread light in dusty corners and excitement of a dream carries me past the common frustrations. 

Yes there’s a lot of time spent in the mud, and at any given moment, I might be blinded by the darkness.  Yes, there are things I’d like to change about my life and things I hope are in store.  Yes I still worry and get overwhelmed, angry and hopeless.  But still I don’t ponder giving up anyway.  I don’t wish for sudden death or ponder ways to surrender without hurting those I love.  I wouldn’t trade in all of the heartache because there are too many moments of happiness, too much hope, and too many roots that I’ve planted that I find joy in their sprouts.  I don’t wish for death, and all I want to tell her is just hold on...just hold on because you never know what smile will catch you off guard or what blessing lands on your shoulder.  It’s trite and cliche. 

But my final answer will always be this: Choose Life.