One of the unexpected ways that my life has unfolded is that from time to time, I have the honor of assisting presenters at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
In this volunteer capacity, I’ve come to serve as a regular assistant to a few of my favorites, including the author Dani Shapiro whose presence is as lovely as her work…
Though I have assisted this same program of hers a half-dozen times, I never fail to benefit from the practice of writing inside the nourishing container that she creates with her presence to the space between the words.
Sometimes I write from the center of my current writing project, which alas, has been the same project since I began assisting in 2014. Often I write from the center of the present moment, which is quite familiar as a memoirist and as an instructor of yoga.
It’s always a bit of a treasure hunt to see what comes on the page in a room full of others doing the same; and there is often gold at the end, no matter if one is a professional author, an amateur, or someone without any writing practice at all.
A favorite prompt Dani offers comes in response to a poem entitled: It Could Have Happened.
Here’s what I found inside it this past autumn…
It Could Have Happened… September 2016
it could have happened that I, like my traveling companions, did not hear the knock at 4 AM
It could have happened that it didn’t stir me or cause me to wonder:
Is someone locked out of the room? The building? A Relationship?
Was it a knock on the door?
Should I get up?
Let her in?
See what’s wrong?
Make sure I’m safe?
It could’ve happened that Sting did not begin to sing in my head…
“If you love somebody, go ahead and throw away the key…”
It could’ve happened that he did not continue…
“Free, free. Set them free.”
It could have happened that the singing subsided, and I fell back into a deep sleep
That I didn’t ponder why…
Why this song?
Who needs freeing?
It could have happened that I didn’t feel the urge to rise and run down the hill toward the labyrinth before dawn…
It could have happened that I didn’t pause with the birdsong and the pale yellow petals and the mountain range as the sun began to rise…
It could have happened that once inside the labyrinth, it didn’t occur to me, that it was…
I was the one
who Sting was singing to
The one who needed
Without a key
(5 months later and I’m still not sure what this means…)
Now that the days are shortening, like the days of my life, night comes, like a barge, toward my ship, and lurks ominously, like Trump, behind Hillary, at the Town Hall debate.
Sometimes night comes even closer, with an unwanted advance, and nudges my boat, just enough, to stir panic inside.
Other times, night enters more forcefully, and the impact is enough to tip my vessel to its side, and I feel the contents of my cabin slide across the floor, and then toward me, as the boat begins to sink, backwards, or sometimes nose down, and sometimes folded in half, plunging into the icy cold waters of death.
Night has been coming like this more and more.
I live in fear of that day in November.
No, not that one.
The other one; where we set the clocks forward
and night comes even swifter.
After that, comes the other night in November;
but I’ve taken care of at least my cabin
with an early ballot.
Last night, I gathered with women
to chase away the darkness,
but night found me even there, in the middle of the dance,
in the center of our power,
as a friend quipped: Nasty Women!
I’m typically buoyant after the dance,
but my ship could barely stay afloat before I docked it into the harbor of sleep.
I woke this morning, long before dawn, to the murky fear of death,
not just mine, but those I love.
I rose then, and began writing, this fable,
and soon, I found in me, an invincible light,
even in the darkness,
with the promise,
of a new day.
More musing regarding that second day in November:
I know many an artist (and other women folk) who rise in the wee hours to their craft when they can’t sleep, but not me. The last time I got up from bed to write was on the eve of my 50th birthday, almost three years ago; and now tonight, with the Harvest Moon lighting up the house, and rising inexplicably in me–memories of Steamboat Springs, 1986, when I taught preschoolers to ski.
I looked good on paper, and passed my PT exam with flying colors (because of my meaty thighs), but during the slope side ski school team screening, I took a tumble, so unaccustomed was I to deep powder after years of riding the rocks back east, even though I learned to ski in the Rockies, more than a decade earlier, when binders had cables, and Copper Mountain was a new thing.
Good things come.
That tumble didn’t cost me the position, but it did place me with the bottom group of students through much of that winter.
Each morning, with my education degree and high honors, I’d carefully place those rugrats on the rug in the snow at the bottom of the hill, and soon enough, one would fall, and take down the others, and mittens would come off, and someone would need to pee, and someone wanted his mama, and everyone would cry, including me.
Eventually, after the New Year, I moved up to level B, every once and awhile. To the rope tow.
Do I need to say more than: rope tow? Remember leather mittens?
I’d place a kid between my meaty thighs and let the rope yank us onto the track and up the hill, and hope that his skis didn’t cross mine and that we didn’t tumble before we made it to the top where we’d just as awkwardly let go of the rope and then hop out of the way before it knocked us over, and then we’d ski, together, like a kangaroo and her joey, down the tiny slope to the pile of whining kids on the rug waiting their turn.
Good things come.
At the tail end of winter, a boy from Texas, who had never seen snow before, liked my class so much, that his parents requested a private–not with a specialist, but with me.
This little four-year old Texan and I spent the day skiing all over the mountain. Like free. We even ate lunch on top of the mountain, in the grown up cafe, a table for two, instead of down bottom, on the cafeteria tables, with snotty-nosed kids and rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches. (I used to eat three of those after skiing with kids between my knees all morning.)
By the end of the week, that boy, who had never seen snow, skied better than me. That’s the way it was with those little fuss pots, once they got over missing their moms and loosing their mittens and needing to pee.
Good things come.
Each morning, I’d roll out of bed, take some Ibuprofen for my hangover, pull on my turtle neck and my ski bibs, and walk down the mountain from the condo that I shared with 4 other beach friends, including the twenty-one year old college drop out who followed me west, and who is still sleeping in my bed tonight.
“Don’t go,” he says, as my rising stirs him from sleep. “Let’s have sex instead.”
Back in the day, in between my day job on the mountain and my night job in the restaurant, I’d skip dinner just to make love, but now this Pisces moon is stirring memories in me so I leave my old lover in our bed and head down the stairs to the moonlight on the floor of the livingroom.
Good things come.
Just before I’d report to the ski school, I stop at the vending machine in the hallway for my breakfast–a Cherry Cola (for the fruit), and a pack of peanut butter sandwich crackers (for the nuts.) Then I’d check in at the front desk to get my slip for the day.
There would be a list of names on that little green sheet of paper–up to 9–and the letter A, for the rugrats; or B for the rope tow kids; and always more names than you wanted to see on one slip; but one day, unexpectedly, come spring, it said neither A or B; in fact, that day and every day after that, as the sun grew stronger, and the days grew warmer, there would only be a few names on my list–maybe 3, or 4 or 5, but no more, and always the same letter: C. Sometimes C-1 or C-2, but then later, C-3 and 4s.
Every day in March was sun glasses and mountaintop views and having so much fun that we forgot about parents and who needed mittens as we inched our way from the lift to a beginner or intermediate or expert run, hollering in song… “Walk like an Egyptian.”
Good things come.
Later, my boss told me that the administration was so impressed with my positive attitude all winter (meaning I hadn’t grumbled like the rest of them when I was handed sheet after sheet with the letter A or B) that they thought I deserved to coast out the season with C’s.
Good things come.
I’ve been having this week and particularly today–that good things were coming, even though it was one of my hardest days, with the full moon accentuating all of life’s blessings and challenges.
There’s something promising in this autumn air along with the renewed prana.
The moon has shifted across the sky, and my livingroom is now dark instead of filled with light, and moths keep crashing into my screen.
I’m new at this. Not new at experiencing them. But new at knowing I’m experiencing them.
It’s not only that I didn’t have names for my feelings when I was younger,
but that I didn’t fully feel them.
Until I had no choice.
Earlier this week, I found myself humming and singing what has become my tell-tale sad song (it knows I’m feeling sad before I do):
I learned the truth at 17, that love was meant for beauty queens, and pretty girls with clear-skinned smiles, who married young and then retired. And those of us with ravaged faces…
Oddly enough, I was one of those clear-skinned, pretty girls.
But still, this song comes to me more and more as I age, to the point where my youngest, at 15, hears it playing on YouTube for the first time and says: “I like the original better,” not realizing that he’s only ever heard it sung by me.
This is Janis Ian, I say. It’s her song.
I’m relieved when I Google her and find that she’s still alive: and 64, happily through menopause no doubt, even winning a Grammy in 2013!
Mid-life women inspire me. They are such warriors. So full-hearted.
This morning I wake with a crushing weight on my chest. (Well, maybe not crushing. But pressing.)
I’m unable to take a full breath. (I taught yoga yesterday.)
When I consider the day ahead, even the smallest part of the day ahead, I feel immobilized. (It’s a relatively straightforward day.)
I’m expecting my period. And menopause. (Soon, please.)
I stay put and feel into the sensations of weight and panic until they soften enough. I take a shower, pack my work things–while scaling the items shouting for my attention around the house–and I drive away.
I feel lighter.
Until I enter our Co-op grocery store. I decide not to shop first as planned, but instead take a seat in the corner of the cafe and get to work. I always feel good when I work. Almost always. It’s how I’ve kept ahead of anxiety and depression throughout my life, though I never knew that then. I thought I loved work. Until someone said these words:
What you love brings you balance.
Work never brought me balance. It brought me 100-hour work weeks at 20. And teacher burn-out by 30. So I decided to stay home. For two decades.
That didn’t fare well either. I found at-home-motherhood excruciatingly boring. Diapers, dishes, routines. Sitting down on the floor with the kids was the worst. I couldn’t still myself into their worlds. I thought it was play that I resisted, but now I realize that it was me. Without complexity to consume my mind, anxiety devoured me.
I had a window into those years when I went shopping with my son earlier this week. I noticed that if I kept my focus on items that engaged me, say the household aisle of TJ Maxx, then I could keep the anxiety at bay. But if he wanted to talk to me, or worse yet, show me something, particularly something that held no interest for me, my anxiety magnified.
I wonder when it all started.
Is it genetic?
I remember a high fever at the age of 4 and the way the world grew too large and then too small and far away for me to handle.
I remember a fire at the age of 9–the one that took the lives of an entire family except for the boy who went to my school–and how I trembled with that news all night long.
I remember my arm in a sling at age 11, broken on the ice–the result of a mind game that I played often that year–counting down how quickly I could get from place to place–before I blew up.
That would have been sixth grade,
the first year of my mother’s alcoholism,
the year that my father poured the bottles down the sink,
and said, “You have to watch your mother. She’s sick.”
My breath catches on this memory.
The weight on my chest returns.
I see this young girl, and go to her.
I rub her heart, and lift the weight from it.
I’m here, I say. I’ll watch your mother. You go play.