To move or be moved…

After 2 winter nights in a room crammed with two dozen aging and restless women, rolling back and forth in a narrow, fragmented, fraudulent sleep on metal-framed bunks, my husband gave up his spot in our Queen back home and I took up all 360 delicious degrees, like da Vinci’s L’Uomo Vitruviano.

Kripalu.

Similarly, but like a pinball, I expanded at Kripalu in 360-degrees, multi-dimensionally, dropping down under the fault line of my marriage, beneath the lush hills and clear pools of Love.

Established, 1986.

Simultaneously, I moved across and down and around a carpeted floor with high ceilings, 4 microphones, 109 guests, 5 fellow assistants and 1 NY Times bestselling author whose program I’ve tended from Still Writing to Hourglass to Inheritance while continuing to plug along on a single work of memoir of my own.

Devotion.

Sometimes, too close to the light, hers and other luminaries, like a moth to a flame of conflicted desire, I overheat and arrive or depart with a migraine, so afraid am I of surrender.

Dharma.

Afterward, I fling myself as far out as possible, repelling from consciousness to—caffeine or chardonnay or shopping—or as was the surprising overshot this time–to all of that, one upon another—followed by a margarita served while sitting on a swing.

La Casita.

~Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

I don’t know…
Maybe this life of mine is too small.
Always was.
Or has become.

~Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too.

While in the bright lights, big city, of Kripalu, in sharp contrast to my hermitage on 8-wooded acres in Vermont beside a woodstove, I move my bowels and brush my teeth and bathe in the dark basement beneath the hum of yoga mats and healers and seekers.

~I’m getting older too.

“Tender,” I said, on Friday night as the mic moved through 116 hands and arrived in my own.

The Stories We Carry.

“Questioning,” I said on Sunday morning as the mic moved around once again.

~I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down.

Though I departed the Berkshires in the early afternoon for the two-hour return north, it wasn’t until the sky grew dark that I found myself rolling up a dirt and snowbound road in the Green Mountains that I have these 14 years called home.

~Well, I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m gettin’ older, too.

Mother. Wife. Teacher.

~And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills,
Well, maybe, the landslide will bring it down, down.

~

I can trace the lineage as far back as my great-great-grandfather and his daughter and her husband, followed by their son and his son, both surgeons.

“Born to Cut,” says the t-shirt in the old photograph of my father on his 40th birthday.

Like them, sometimes I think of myself as a healer, wielding the pen instead of the knife, but this month, instead of crafting, I find myself dissecting each of the previous drafts of the body of work I began 7 winters ago.

More than a dozen casualties are lined up, and I’ve heard that this many is a sure sign that the work is fatal.

Like the organs stored in separate containers on the shelves of the morgue where I worked the summer I was 16, I continue to sort parts by date or theme or person or place, like the plane accident that resulted in the largest jars that I looked at each afternoon, while I rinsed formaldehyde from surgical tissue, occasionally coming across a thyroid or a prostate, a fetus or a breast.

Cutting into the work like this makes me uncertain. Am I a murderer, a madman, a mortician? Or am I a doctor, an artist?

After the surgeon cuts, the lab tech dissects, preparing a specimen for testing–benign or malignant?

I’d like to think that no such test exists for art, but I’d also like to think that I might find myself, as my ancestors did, mastering craft in service to a higher calling.

 

Winter Winds

I came of age in a Captainless ship. We all went down one by one. Which may be why these wintry nights with wild winds evoke terror inside. Or maybe too, in another life, I perished at sea, and I’m almost certain that’s true because I don’t want to know. Just the thought of it almost extinguishes me, while I write at the kitchen table with the sun rising over the mountains, a wave of light cresting the satiny snow, as the tea kettle whistles and the woodstove ticks and the timbers of this frame raised by neighbors creaks with the last few gusts before the sap on this hill begins to run.

Midnight. Imbolc.


I was 18 when I began keeping vigil with all that was lost; which is to say, I began writing.

My youngest is 18 now.

His older brother was home this afternoon for a quick half-hour, just in time to hop in the car with his father and head south to my husband’s family home 300 miles away.

I waved from the mudroom as they pulled down the driveway and then Aidan and I turned to empty the dishwasher. As I was bent over the silverware it hit me. “All three of you share something I don’t,” I said.

Home.

Turns out, it’s hard to give your kids something you never had, and not for the obvious reasons.

While it’s been healing to offer the kind of upbringing I needed, it’s also surprisingly painful, especially now that they’re the age I was when there was hardly a home or parents to turn toward.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about moving. Far away. By myself. Like the time I lived in London or the time I backpacked through Europe or the time I went out to the Rockies. At 18 and 23, my boys are like bookends of the age I was then. It must be time.

Integrity is one of several paths. It distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path, and the only one upon which you will never get lost.

I came across this passage in a framed print at the second-hand store years ago, and slowly it wove itself into our family fabric, especially as my boys entered adolecence and I asked them to recite it again and again.

I leaned into that instruction myself, intuitively, 30 years earlier, after a miscarriage, as I prepared to leave my first teaching position. A colleague remarked on my diligence with the end of the year paperwork. “Why bother,” she said. “You’re leaving for Vermont.”

It was something I would hear echoed, again and again, each time I left a job, a rental, a relationship.

Integrity.

Ending well.

Tonight I looked for jobs across the ocean.

What must it be like to have a home to which you can return? I wondered this as my older son sat beside me on the stairs before he left with his father. “I’ll be leaving right away when we get back on Sunday,” he said.

I marveled at how he could “drop-in” to the familiar sights and sounds and smells of a lifetime, and then be on his way again, securely rooted and released, without any need to grasp or hold on or catalogue the memories before they vanished.

The restlessness I feel inside is almost unbearable.
UPROOT, it says, UPROOT!

I don’t want a house or a husband or a community.

But I’ve cultivated a lifetime of tools that enable me to stay with what hurts and what is uncomfortable and what makes me want to run.

Writing. Breath. Music. Dance. Meditation. Spiritual texts. Self-compassion.

“Observing desire without acting on it enlarges our freedom to choose,” writes Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance.

Freedom is on the horizon.
Especially with January behind us.

The Multi-Colored Womb

A Thousand Voices – Donald Saaf – 2011

Winter brings the return of the dream state, or maybe it’s too much or not enough or my broken-up sleep that explains the day to day watery-immersion of otherworldliness.

Last week, I dreamt of a womb-like container, belonging to another. She placed it on the shelf beside my single bed and then she turned to leave the dormitory-like space as it began to fill with others claiming beds and counters.

I never saw her face, but I continued to marvel at what she left behind–a multi-colored, beautifully-beaded container which served as a water bottle.

Each time I left my bed, however, I was consumed with frustration, because yet another new arrival made claims on the bed that was already mine.

One man, in fact, went so far as to lift my mattress off the frame and take it to the other side of the room–the men’s side, I suppose.

I crossed the space between us and protested. “This isn’t how it works,” I explained. “My things were already there.”

Apparently, the unspoken rules of the Kripalu assistant dormitory (of which I was readily practiced) didn’t apply here.

But where was here anyway? I looked around at rows and rows of beds that I hadn’t noticed before as the space approached full occupancy.

Were we some type of refugee?

I retrieved my mattress, but then wondered if perhaps others needed it more, and then I caught sight of the beautiful container again and smiled, making a mental note to find one for myself.

Days later, that beaded womb bled through my waking hours, speaking a language that I couldn’t quite understand.

Waking between the worlds like this, especially in the dark, wintry months, is welcome, even while it is disorienting (or perhaps because it is), leaving me bobbing in a soupy sea–reality flooded with dreams—where the constellation upon which I’ve relied no longer directs the course, forcing me to find new markers, inside and in other realms, obscured from reality’s view.

Christmas Heartbreak

If not the sobriety of Menopause (2 years this past Thanksgiving), then the house guest for whom the holiday was a foreigner, or perhaps the alchemy of both together accounted for the way Christmas was tilted, like a snow globe, and shook loose of all of its accoutrements–gifts & food & music & ritual–until it was seen, if not for the first time, then at least anew.

The build-up.
The expectations.
The arbitrariness.
The absurdity.
The excess.
The holy?

One could say, as many do, that it’s the absence of the Christ Child that hollows out the holiday like a cheap, chocolate Easter Bunny.

But what of our rich personal traditions, steeped in soul and meaning?

Each Christmas Eve we read aloud the Nativity story, and each Christmas Morning, we read this stunning excerpt from Little Women:

Jo was the first to wake in the gray dawn of Christmas morning. No stockings hung at the fireplace, and for a moment she felt as much disappointed as she did long ago, when her little sock fell down because it was crammed so full of goodies. Then she remembered her mother’s promise and, slipping her hand under her pillow, drew out a little crimson-covered book. She knew it very well, for it was that beautiful old story of the best life ever lived, and Jo felt that it was a true guidebook for any pilgrim going on a long journey. She woke Meg with a Merry Christmas, and bade her see what was under her pillow. A green-covered book appeared, with the same picture inside, and a few words written by their mother, which made their one present very precious in their eyes. Presently Beth and Amy woke to rummage and find their little books also, one dove-colored, the other blue, and all sat looking at and talking about them, while the east grew rosy with the coming day.

“While the east grew rosy with the coming day!” Gush!!! And each and every Day in December we read from the National WIldlife Treasury…

December may be the last page on our calendar, but it belongs to no single year… ruled less by time than by age-old traditions…

But is reading meaning?
What of the heart?

My late mother’s birthday is Christmas Day, as was my great Aunt Doll’s.
Certainly, that’s enough heart for a single day.

Let your heart be light…

My youngest, and his maternal and paternal grandfathers before him, dismiss the traditions of faith as if religion is a personal affront to their God-given, white-male sovereignty, and at least in my son’s defense, this is accompanied by an abiding passion for all things scientific.

Lesser beings, like myself, of smaller minds and opportunity, oftentimes rely upon magic and soul. Alas, my capacity for the former, carefully attended since childhood, is almost extinguished, for which I can barely muster concern which in itself is alarming.

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them…(Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express) 

First thing Christmas morning, my youngest led his older brother in a brief yoga practice, sounding through the chakras, the two of them flanking me on my mat in front of my bedroom balcony doors as the sun rose above the trees in the East–their Warrior Threes on each side of my Balanced Tree–a morning practice to better prepare ourselves for the extraordinary self-connection required of the day’s togetherness; which on sons’ part was no doubt an effort to humor their mother so that the gift-giving could commence sooner.

Having sped through the chakras with a pose for each one, they left the room, encouraging me along, while moments later my youngest returned with his old, golden & gem clad, Egyptology book in hand.

“Eylem pulled this off the shelf,” he explained, “Look at this,” he said, pointing to an excerpt from the Book of the Dead, beneath an illustration of Horus which read:

My heart, my mother, my heart, my mother, my heart, my coming into being! May there be nothing to resist me at my judgment… may there be no parting of thee from me in the presence of him who keeps the scales!

He went on to explain that at death the heart is weighed. And only if it is lighter than a feather may the dead pass on to “heaven.”

Let your heart be light…

It’s not just the heartbreak of my mother’s absence, or the Christmas Eve fire that destroyed a neighbor’s home, or the tsunami on the Sundra Straits of Indonesia sweeping away a pop band while it performed for concert goers on the beach, or even the impending separation between two lovers in my livingroom, star-crossed by timing and culture and place of birth (not to mention visas) or the heartbreak of disappointing yourself, like my youngest, in your first semester away at school, it was the revelation that came with the lightening of my own heart as we sat around the fire on Christmas Eve, while the Gospel of Luke was read aloud with a Turkish accent, followed by the spontaneous singing of carols, giving rise to bouts of laughter, particularly my own, which led my oldest to posit that his mother must be very, very tired, or the moment earlier in the day just before we left to skate on the Retreat Meadows when I stepped toward my husband’s in an embrace, not weary, but full of love, which is how I realized how very tight and parsimonious I’ve let my heart become.

ps: best ever illustrated book of the Gospel of Luke/nativity story, Julie Vivas (of Australia):

Rose-Gold Solstice Tears

 

I am typing this morning on a rose-gold laptop, meant to be unboxed ritualistically with Solstice. 

But when my husband arrived home last night with the new purchase, I took it in my arms and said:

“Where is my old computer?”

Stunned, he said nothing at first, and then sensing my distress, replied: “They told me that it was on its last legs.”

He then proceeded to list all its ailments; of which, I was intimately aware.

Still, upon grasping this finality, I sat down on the stairs, with the box on my lap, and surprised us both.

I cried. I cried out loud as I had (or had wanted to) once when I watched from the curb outside our apartment as the tow truck pulled away with my friend.

That silver Mercury Lynx, a relatively unattractive car, without a single upgrade, did its best to transport me and my belongings to college and back home on weekends and vacations; and soon after, between homes with my younger siblings after our parents’ marriage came to a reckless end.

Sometimes I drove them to school, or to birthday parties, or to Easter egg hunts or out Trick or Treating. Later, when addiction split the 8 of us in half between parents, the Lynx provided for long-awaited reunions and adventures, near and far–the beach, the boardwalk, the Chinese restaurant, the pizza parlor, the historical village, the science center, the art museum, the zoo, the ballpark, the Berkshires.

That car accompanied me on solo trips too, riding the ferry across the Delaware Bay where my great-grandparents lived, and years later it brought me back to sit with my Nana in the hospital in her final days. (Or maybe that was the Honda.)

That little lemon of a vehicle from Ford took Casey and me across the country and back during our first winter together, spent in the Rockies, and the next winter, it went with me to my first teaching job; while long before that, it traversed the island and over to the mainland with friends on roadtrips to the mall or to concerts or back and forth to the waterside restaurant that I’d managed in the summertime.

I’d sobbed inside that car, after hours, to and from the restaurant in early July my first love proposed to another.

I sang at the top of lungs, “Somewhere over the rainbow,” on my drive home after graduation to which my mother, inebriated, never arrived.

I talked myself through difficulties and decisions; and from time to time, I thought about veering off my path to head somewhere unknown without telling a soul.

Despite the sputtering of its faulty carburetor, I learned to drive in that car with its manual transmission, and it became a part of me and my agency, of who I was, and who I wanted to be.

I can still see the Kermit the Frog decal on my back window on the morning my little brother helped me attach it. I can hear my little sister begging for some of my pizza goldfish from the back seat. I remember the tin of cookies between Casey and me that were baked for our two-thousand-mile journey to the Rockies, but which we opened before we’d left town. There was the cassette tape that I made for that trip, introducing him, to his dismay, to my childhood icon, John Denver, whom by the drive home, several months later, he loved too.

I began wearing glasses in that car, just at night.

Casey crossed the room and took a seat beside me on the stairs and patted my back as I wept.

“I started my book on that computer,” I said, and with that added realization, I cried even harder, leaving him a bit perplexed about the absence of joy given the expensive purchase on my lap, or maybe he understood completely, having loved me for so long.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m more attached to places and things than I am to people. Most of my photos, even the ones that I took when I was a youthful traveler, are of light and angles and objects, rather than familiar faces.

Maybe the experience of so much loss, so young, made me withdraw from the transient nature of human relationships.

“This new computer is a stranger,” I said, putting the box down beside me so that I could tuck my head under the railing of the stairs and lean my head against the wall while tears trickled down my cheeks.

I find myself there often of late, under the railing, shrinking life’s uncertainties I suppose, as I open into all the unknowns, no longer needing to be strong or clear or directed in this empty nest of ours.

I’ve felt deeply into this emptiness since August. I’ve grieved and been ill and wondered what the point–of me–was.

My entire life has been defined by care. In large part because I was born female. And because I was born the oldest. And because everything around me fell apart and someone needed to pay attention. And finally, because I chose occupations and careers that centered around the capacities cultivated in the face of tragedy and loss.

Even yesterday, while skating alone out across the frozen Retreat Meadows, I watched to be sure another skater returned from beyond the grassy mounds before I took another pass myself.

And still, I sense that I’ve reached some turning point, some great letting go, some tentative acceptance of an invitation–to lift my head out from under the railing and claim the space which was always meant to be mine.

This costly, rose-gold laptop is a necessity, I tell myself, much like a car. It’s how I get to work and back (even if I earn less now than I did when I was in school.)

My very first laptop was delivered much like this one, at the door, but unexpectedly so by a friend who had refurbished it, and thrusting into my arms, said:

“You’re a writer. Write.”

I left the classroom to do just that.

But Writing and I began our affair, decades earlier, just after my first year at college when my family fell apart, and I needed someone to turn toward too.

In journal after journal, I wrote to myself or to some larger aspect of myself, or to consciousness itself–through college and backpacking across Europe, to marriage and moving to Vermont, to becoming a mother and leaving the classroom.

Together we transcended relationships, locations, identities, vehicles, and even computers.

At first by accident, and then tentatively, I began submitting articles and essays until I felt the stirrings of a book.

“What will I write about?” I asked Casey. And in the absence of subject, and so ever-practical (and ever-so prematurely), I investigated the ins and outs of publishing, which pointed me toward something called “a platform,” ie. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging which fortunately or unfortunately better suited my need for self-direction until I was no longer submitting, in favor of writing what I wanted, when I wanted, in live-partnership with readers, ie. fellow soul seekers (but without a paycheck.)

You could say I’ve wasted many years here on Facebook, a decade, in fact, come 2019.

Or you could say that I’ve honed my voice and found new avenues of full-hearted participation.

Though I haven’t attempted to publish, I have written through three memoirs since that nascent stirring. The first in a single summer. The second during a school year. (Both shelved until my capacity for the craft matched my vision.) The third, written through again and again, over the course of what is now several years—the lifespan of a laptop that has lived past its time.

“They called it vintage,” Casey said, explaining how it wasn’t worth repair.

Earlier this month, he drove me to the sea, and there, at the hour of my birth, the largest or deepest essence of my book was revealed, like the small, but solid figure at the center of a set of nesting dolls.

“The beings that were un-manifest want to help,” an intuitive said just yesterday of the babies that I miscarried long ago.

And for the first time, since holding my newborn son in my arms, I felt the grief of those losses return, and something else–the gift of reconnection–and the space to occupy it.

And now, I discover that I have christened this laptop along with whoever is inclined to read something this long in the season with so much to do.

May this rose-gold light shine the way forward with all the accoutrements that accompany success.

Greedily, or better yet, full-heartedly, I want Everything—meaning, purpose, healing, publication, outreach, travel, income and wellbeing.

Thank you to each set of eyes and each heart and mind that helped me better understand my place in what amounts to a decade of live-journaling in this shared constellation of LOVE. Your light nourishes my own.

May your wishes rise in the dark in the certain embrace of Light’s return.

May it be so.

MINE

il_570xN.513887553_525x
Timothy Parker, all rights reserved, 2013.

I lie (asleep?) in a room full of beds…
A man (my uncle?) slips under the covers behind me.

Pulls me close?
Presses into me?

Is this a memory? A sensation?
Did I watch it happen to another?
Was the other, me?
Is she 4, 7, 11, 13?

I see the dark wood floors. The white ceiling. The door frame. The handle.
The hallway. The bathroom. The white porcelain tub.
The water running. My aunt in her nightgown.

The narrative remains unclear, but the ache in my sacrum is strong.
A pulsing. A defense. An outrage.

THIS IS MY BODY!

I lie on the carpeted floor. Knees drawn to chest. Feet pressing against my assigned partner. My job in this first chakra exercise is to push away, to claim, to say:

MINE!

But my voice, typically strong, cracks. Breaks apart.
I am struck by the absence of my own belonging.
Embarrassed.
Disrobed.

I return to explore my first chakra with the help of my therapist. Recover this violation. The foggy narrative.
Then narrow in on a clearer intrusion: spanking.

At 51, it’s hard to fathom that this trauma could still be lodged in my body. It was among the first that I consciously released with the assistance of healing practitioners some twenty years ago.

In fact, in my mid-thirties, I sat in this very cafe, drinking hot cider and enjoying a roll with jam, while writing the poem that claimed my body as MINE.

I’ve since lost my taste for sugary things, and now prefer everything bitter.
And yet, here I am, revisiting the same pain, in the same place, with espresso.

I sense the energy, once locked inside my sacrum, drain down my legs into the earth. It moves in slow currents like the flow of water beneath the ice on the river beside me.

Beyond the river is a mountain.
It defines and nourishes my view.
My strength.

MINE.