Part 2 of Part Deux: Speedboat and Flip Flops

So I promised to extend my last post, which was part two of another post. In actuality, that would make this post part three, but part 2 of part deux seems more apropos.

Today I did that thing that parents of newborns do. Only, I am the parent of not a newborn. In fact, I am the parent of a seven-year-old.

It was no ordinary Saturday morning. It was the morning we had a birthday party to attend for my son’s friend.

So I hurried us out of the house by 12:36 p.m., pushing my son to find his lightning bolt shirt and bathing suit just a little faster – and then even faster (please). I told my mom, who had stayed overnight with us, as she does once a month, she had to leave early. I factored in the exact amount of time we had to stop by the store to buy the necessary cat stuff for the donation to the animal shelter. Speaking of, do most people notice how many parents ask for donations to charities in lieu of presents? (We don’t do this, however. I am not on top of it enough to figure out which charity we’re to be donating said gifts to. Therefore, I end up feeling like a failure of a parent before and during every birthday party we attend while twenty children run around eating cake.)

Moving on…. We arrive to the nature center at 1:25 p.m., five minutes early. I am never five minutes early. But to this party, I was going to be on time. And I was SO on time.

Strangely, however, I saw none of Asher’s friends piling out of their own cars in the two neighboring sleeves of parking allotted for both eager and reluctant parents and birthday party attendees.

No one we knew climbed the ladders on the playground; strange children and unfamiliar thirty and forty-somethings dotted the landscape, pulling tiny hands along behind them.

I could keep going. I could tell you how we walked into the actual building where the snakes, spiders, and lizards are housed in glass cages. How we took in a brief breath of cool air conditioning before realizing the joint was practically empty.

I could tell you how for the third time in two days I pulled up the God forsaken Evite and how for the very first time, the date staring back at us in bold font stated Sunday, August 06. Sunday. August 6. Oh. I see. It all makes sense now. When did the date change? What gives?

Now, I am going to bring this all back to that God forsaken cleanse about which I was writing a few days ago and ten days before that. The cleanse meant to purify mind and body, a diet carefully and meticulously excluding any bread, cheese, butter, yogurt, granola, chocolate, pasta (not even rice pasta), or alcohol (oops). I could remind you how I am tired of cleansing and how I feel like I am attempting a trip to Mecca, crossing oceans on a speed boat, trudging through sandy deserts wearing flip flops and a bikini. But it’d be silly to compare a simple restrictive diet for a specified amount of time (30 days to be exact) to a religious trek requiring tremendous resilience and dedication.

But it’d also be stupid to show up to a birthday party on the wrong day. Which means I am definitely going to tell you that I am done with my religious quest through the dessert. Did I just write dessert? ūüôā

 

(P.S. I can’t wait to write my third/fourth and possibly final update once this is over, including pictures of amazing – even if simple – dishes we’ve cooked. I have actually become a better cook through all of this. Au revoir!)

 

My Accidental Cleanse (part deux)

The glory of this cleanse thingy has definitely worn off. In fact, in moments, I feel like I am fasting for Ramadan. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with fasting for Ramadan. In fact, I think it’s quite admirable. But I am not sure I have the strength to keep fasting. I suppose, however, if Elizabeth Warren persisted, then by-golly, I will too.

Another perspective that’s just as real and true is that I am feeling stronger and more radiant than under normal circumstances. I have moments wherein I catch myself in the mirror, and I am shocked to see the youthful glow and slightly sunken cheeks. Cutting out sugar of any kind, dairy, and gluten can do that for a girl (or someone of any gender).

But in the past few days, more often than not I have felt stripped down to bare rawness. My patience is running thin with everyone I love. My running practice is dragging in the mud. If cleansing is anything like a true fast, then the path to enlightenment is bitter-tasting.

Krista Bremer, a recent favorite of mine, writes about this in her award-winning essay, “My Accidental Jihad,” from¬†The Sun magazine. (She scored a memoir that is loosely based on her essay, too, and it’s wonderful.) In the essay, Krista describes her Muslim husband’s annual fast during Ramadan and her own experiences during these time periods. One of the surprising facts she mentions is that Ramadan is not nearly as marvelous a time as she imagined it would be. Instead of coming home to her husband sitting in lotus pose with flowers tucked behind his ears and the house smelling of sweet incense, she comes home to a man who is at his wit’s end, to someone who has little patience and energy. To someone whose breath is so foul, she turns away from him in bed at night.

Enlightenment is anything but pretty or serene. The actual work is anything but. This holds true for any endeavor requiring endurance, whether it be running a marathon, writing an essay, planting a garden, building a career or a marriage….. In fact, the path seems to require the dirtiest work imaginable. It requires bareness, rawness, and perhaps weeks of bad breath. It sometimes requires going without sugar in your coffee and cheese on your burger, too.

I promise to expand upon this post another time this week, but for now, the following quote by Kahlil Gibran, from¬†The Prophet, seems a fitting way to end: “The same lute that soothes your spirit was hollowed by knives.”

The Cleanse, Part I

Sometimes we find ourselves in an inexplicable phase of “leveling up.” I blame Trump. Just kidding. But in all seriousness, since the beginning of this year, I have been stretching myself to do more and be more, in ways that have seemed difficult or impossible in the past. I’ve witnessed other friends, both near and far, making big life changes as well.

So perhaps there is something about being faced with evil that kicks us all into action. After all, the Death Star is not going to destroy itself. The God of War isn’t going to go down easily. (Couldn’t help but throw in a Wonder Woman reference.)

On a related note, my husband and I are going on two weeks of the Whole 30 diet, which is more accurately a food “cleanse.” Eric has been a total purest with the program, while I have taken a few missteps here and there. If you don’t know what Whole 30 is, you might think it’s a form of unnecessary torture since eating sugar, dairy, and grains (just to name the big ones) are all off limits. Oh, did I mention alcohol? I’ve slipped almost every day with the last one. It’s hard to explain how emotionally attached we are to food and wine/beer until we start cutting these things out. As you may know, I “suffer” from what could be considered chronic anxiety, so allowing a beer or even a half a beer at night when I am already going without dessert, bread, sweet creamer for my coffee, and cheese seems forgivable. Sue me.

This emotional attachment to food that has been written about in Whole 30 recipes books and information, is no joke. Maybe you know this already. Maybe I am preaching to a choir of folks who have been there and done that, but facing my emotional attachment to peanut butter (no legumes either) and chocolate has been truly eye-opening. I have had moments of raw irritation and tears for no rational cause.¬†I have have had days where I struggle to get off the couch and others where I could challenge the Road Runner to a sprint down the block. I am a mess. Go figure. I didn’t need Whole 30 to know that, I suppose.

So what’s the big deal? What’s all the fuss? Why should I subject myself to intense mood swings and shifts in energy level?

I think I am figuring it out. It’s like running, actually. I never knew I’d be able to run a mile or two without coughing up a lung. I didn’t know my body could adjust to constant pushing; I thought it might collapse underneath the master’s whip.

A segment on NPR’s On Being, called “Running as Spiritual Practice” reinforces my own experience. In this episode, wherein a number of runners talk about how they started running and the discipline and stillness the practice has brought them, one woman runner proclaimed, “Once I learned to run, I wondered what else had I been lying to myself about!”¬†Learning to run had given her a glimpse of what she was made of, that she was capable of accomplishments beyond her wildest dreams. Her own faulty perception of herself began to crumble.

And I think this is it. When we put forth any serious effort, we realize that we are capable of greatness. We are capable of growing and changing. We can actually improve our little selves and our seemingly tiny lives. We can see glimpses into new dimensions, into galaxies once impossibly far and away.

 

 

July,

Time seems to stop in July. Have you ever noticed this? We take a deep sigh of relief that summer is here, that the calendar has allowed us to fall in love again. After all, it was in July when so many of our childhood memories were made: trips to grandma’s house, tubing down the river, getting chased by boy cousins with bb guns. OK, admittedly, that last one is probably not in everyone’s memory nor does it speak of the romanticism of July. But it’s in there. For me.

And then, there were those summer romances. The emerging fireworks always brought out the pop and fizzle beneath our skins.

So it makes sense that I also met my husband in July. It was the summer of 2003. We were 30 and 31 – babies. But we were the type of babies who thought they’d done gone and grown up already. We thought we’d been through so much life experience. We were aging travelers, and the clock was ticking for us to find a partner and settle down. But, of course, looking back, we were stumbling in the summer dark awaiting a light in the sky to show us the way home. Meaning, we didn’t really know jack yet about life.

What we did know was how much we wanted from it and from a mate. Our heart song was as loud as a billion screaming cicadas, crazy from the heat, eager for that one soul to hear our cry. And respond in turn.

July.

This is also the month when we recognize that fall is coming. There’s just no stopping the impermanence of life. The stillness of being in-between one thing and another sets in. And this is what makes July all the more Sophoclean-tragedy-like. We know the end is coming. (Is this getting too dark? Just wait for the light.)

I think I always long for the end because of this. Because I know my love for July and the nostalgia that beads like sweat on my skin is temporary, I long for fall and winter even more. It’s like I want the intense romance to end because I know it’s going to. Romantic love always, always fades. There is no getting around this.

But as Anne Lamott always reminds us, there is STILL good news. My goods news to share is that marriage can sometimes feel very lukewarm. (Wait, what?) There are even patches of winter and snow, and sometimes those seasons last longer than we’d like. It’s true. And this doesn’t matter. The incessant worries about life don’t offer us much choice. So be it.

July always comes round again. Just last night, Eric and I had a rare date night. Even more rarely, we went to see a movie in an actual theater. How early 2000’s (in the life of our relationship, that is). We sat there holding hands in the dark as the screen lit up in front of us, offering just enough light to see each other’s grins, to spot the knowing glances.

It doesn’t take much light for us to find our way home. Just the smallest crack, the tiniest glimmer. A firefly can ignite an entire night’s sky.

July.

P.S. Please check out my latest publication here: http://muthamagazine.com/2017/07/running-scared/

P.S.S. If you enjoyed this post, please like my FB page and/or join the mailing list.

A Place Between Two Birds

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As I sit here looking at the two blue ¬†porcelain birds quietly sitting next to our black mesh-wire candle holder, holding a vanilla candle, I stop to contemplate the moment, the time in between going from one lesson plan idea to the next. It was the smell of vanilla that stopped me in my mental tracks. If you don’t have a large vanilla candle or one in your own favorite scent, I might suggest purchasing one.

Mine sits on the ledge between our dining nook and our living room. And it’s literally a dining nook; dining room is much too generous, but it’s good enough. It’s a space to eat that out’s of the traffic of the comings and goings of a seven-year-old boy, who is often running from outside to in and then back again, trailing grass and tiny bits of dirt with him. Does the book, No David ring a bell to anyone? If not, it’s cool. And if so, then you can see the visual of David tromping through his house.

Anyhoo, the candle. That’s where I was. The wafting smell of a candle is what lifted me out of the focused bubble that seems to encase me when I am on the computer. After the scent arrived, I looked up to see the two birds and thought how lovely this moment is. I am always more stressed when I am teaching, and having my son Asher home for the summer adds more tension. But there are still moments of stillness that arrive where I can freeze time.

Suddenly, I can hear the lazy cars drifting by our bay window to my right. I can hear the birds chirping as they fly from one fir tree to the next. I can hear my son and his neighborhood friends screaming in the excitement of four-square, bickering over who’s out and who’s not. I can hear the sound of my husband turning off the mower and joining in the boy’s playful squabble.

All of these things are always here to take in and enjoy, no matter what else is happening. Even when I am worried about money and bills. Even when I am unsure how to stuff a semester’s worth of learning into an eight-week summer term. Even when…all the other stuff seems looming out there: the dishes, the laundry, my own personal hygiene for Christ’s sake. I haven’t even taken a shower, and it’s nearly 2:00 p.m.

In the background, beyond the candle and birds, Anne Lamott’s book¬†Bird by Bird sits on the faux fireplace mantle in our living room, another reference to taking things slow. A scene that seems too staged to be an accident, and yet it is.

In her book, Ms. Lamott reminds us to take things “bird by bird,” or one small step at a time, a message that arrived to me by way of a scented vanilla candle this afternoon. And suddenly, the space between two porcelain birds arrives, the one that’s been waiting for me to notice, calling me to stop, to be still, to take in what I have accomplished. To inhale.

This is Why

There is a scene in Game of Thrones, Season 5, during which a young queen climbs onto the back of her dragon. It’s complicated, and I am sure that sounds insane if you don’t watch the show or indulge in fantasy, but keep reading. I think you can relate.

So. there she is, the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys, a heroic and inspiring leader whose kingdom is infested with a strong anarchist movement; she is climbing onto the scaly back of one of her dragons to escape a band of attacking rebels. The two take flight into the air, rising higher and higher above a crowd of slack-jawed, wide-eyed onlookers, including you, the one sitting on your couch stuck to your screen. It’s one of those moments you have waited for throughout four and a half seasons of relentless bloodshed, unspeakable cruelty, demonic ice creatures, and severed hearts. But you made it here, just to watch Daenerys take flight, with those on the ground below humbled beyond belief, falling to their knees inside at the sheer beauty and wonder, at the moment of reckoning they didn’t know would come. They are filled with as much hope and belief as you are. The Mother of Dragons reigns supreme.

Life. We all live for these moments, don’t we? We wade through so much shit, trek across so many dead-end trails, climb a thousand feet just to be knocked back fifteen-hundred. And then, something clears, and it feels something like seeing the sunrise for the first time – or a brave, young woman climb up onto a dragon and leave the destructive, treasonous world beneath her.

I have had a couple of days like that this week, the day before and immediately after I watched the episode described above. Life is cool like that. Bringing us parallels and connections. My story is much less fantastical, though, obvi.

In fact, my moments were in the classroom, an ordinary room with two windows, a clock, a white board, desks, computers, and a room full of students. These students are bright, eager, and hungry to learn, not like all students I meet at my local community college. They are reaching out to engage with each other, to throw around ideas about the American Dream, poverty, and inequality like a ball of yarn between us, forming a colorful, connecting web. And they stay focused for the entire two and a half hours, too. My God Almighty.

Life is full of endless dullness and difficulty, and yes, there is beauty and wonder in the ordinary moments and in the dirty ones. Ordinary moments can contain plenty of life-affirming richness. Tough times help us reach farther into the light still burning inside.

But the shiny, bright times of our lives make the dull and difficult times completely worth it. We drop to our knees in praise and thanks that our dragon queen lives. We find ourselves thinking this is why. Why we haven’t quit our jobs despite strong temptations, why we’ve stayed committed to our spouse through relationship turmoil, why we have kept chipping away at our dreams in the face of setbacks and rejections.

Because our dragon will come, and he will save us. And in that moment, we understand why we are here, doing what we do in our small but glorious lives. We’ve been plodding along for this. This is why.

 

Close Enough

I know it sounds weird. But whatever it is requires less of you, not more. I’ve been guilty my whole life of “trying SO hard.” When I can’t get something right or figure out a solution, I am like “but I am trying SO hard at it.” Waaaa. Why can’t I get it right?

My husband, the first probable spiritual guru I ever met, was the one who shone a light on this part of myself. This was during my first year as a teacher. Days when I’d come home wound up tight like a corkscrew, stuck in a hardened coil position.

I felt so responsible for those kids, like their success depended on me, like I was the sole provider of any true writing leverage in their lives. I felt responsible for teaching every grammar rule, writing strategy, and research skill. (You could say I was either pretty narcissistic or pretty insane. Go on, you can say it.)

So, I’d end the day unable to unwind, barely taking a break from the moment I put down my briefcase to the moment my head hit the pillow. Somewhere in there, I’d eat something and laugh with my husband, but those moments felt barely existent, paper thin.

After a while of this, Eric started pointing out that I didn’t need to work so hard and that doing so even made me less of a good teacher because I was likely taking that tension into the classroom. Eventually, after several months, I began to listen. I began to let go. Get this, I even started playing God of War and Guitar Hero after dinner,¬†for those video game geeks out there who know what the hey I am talking about.

Over time, I did become a better teacher, I am pretty sure. If nothing else, I was happier, lighter. I felt more refreshed in the morning and readier to greet the day.

Today, I came home from my first day of summer school. And it was a truly successful first day. But man, I came home feeling wiped, wondering how I am going to pull that off again on Wednesday. So I am having to remind myself of this basic truth, that for everyday, ordinary stresses – and sometimes even great big ones – there’s nothing that a little incense and some soothing music from my “Meditation” channel on Pandora can’t transform. Either that or a big glass of red wine in the evening.

From there, once I have spent a little time soaking in my new environment, letting it seep into my skin, I can remember that whatever I am supposed to accomplish for the next day, no matter how unprepared I might feel, isn’t a life or death situation. I can work less hard at trying to get it “just right,” and in doing so, I am likelier to get it right – or close enough to right. Close enough is all we really need.