Old Fears Yadda Yadda

KufIt’s just after 9:00pm. The girls are at their dad’s, and I’m in bed already. When they’re here, Aviva has become accustomed to us going to bed way sooner than she does, shortly after I snuggle with Pearl, who falls asleep within seconds of my stroking her hair and whispering in her ear. Occasionally, we stay up “late,” especially if there’s a show we’re really into or a book we’re reading together. But this past week or so, I have been bone tired at night.

Maybe it’s the cold. Last week it was hormonal. Could be a function of getting up at 5:30 every morning. Lord knows I’ve been writing about how much gets packed in for as long as I’ve been writing here.

My landing places lately have been many and few all at the same time. By landing, I mean: That space of letting all of the motion settle. Becoming aware of the stimulation that is pretty much constant throughout the waking hours. Feeling what it feels like to just be here, in a room, in a body. Tuning into the sounds and sensations. Full stop before sleep.

There is a short stack of books on my night table from the library. They’re all due tomorrow. Or was it yesterday? Two of them reflect the fact that I have a child who is preparing for her bat mitzvah. I have not read them. Aviva is busy choosing invitations and making her guest list, and I don’t know if God’s on it, as one of the book titles suggests. But we will find out on October 3, and I am choosing–after freaking out a few weeks ago–to trust her and our rabbi and the process. Tonight she called me after her youth improv class; she was going to be get picked up at Starbucks but there was a fire alarm and the whole place had to be evacuated, so she was walking to the library, which thankfully was open. She sounded older, in the same way I remember her suddenly sounding older when she was maybe four, her voice imperceptibly but undoubtedly different.

I wonder if my voice sounds different, too. I wonder a lot of things, and loved this post today about wondering.

I have been thinking a lot lately about fear. Not a new topic, but new faces of it, or rather old ones cropping up like photos in an album of people you never really liked anyway and thought you’d thrown away but there it is, as if you’d never moved it. Fears stemming from the oldest scripts–the what ifs dancing around like shadows that would only seem scary from behind a curtain of habit. Old terrain, to be sure. Which is where we find ourselves when we’re on the right path.

Fear may, in fact, be the surest indication that things are going well.

And just as I was writing that sentence, I heard a little ping and switched tabs to look at my email, and there was a message from someone I’ve never heard of in the middle of the country, asking me a couple of questions and saying she’d like to join my March 23-April 3 writing group, not knowing that she was a messenger arriving exactly right on time.

The messenger who says: Don’t fear. Keep going. This is where you belong. This is what happens when you come to a full stop after a full day, when you tune in and listen up and slow down. This is what happens when you don’t let self-doubt obscure joy–which we are actually commanded to experience during this Jewish month of Adar.

Joy. Affirmation coming at me from all sides. To be robbed of this because of old fears (a thousand variations of good enough, yadda yadda) would be like spitting at angels. And that is not something I would do; they work too hard on my behalf to deserve anything but thank you and want to ride shotgun?

No, I will not spit at the angels. I will read to them instead, sing even. Do a little dance and make a little love. Hell, I’ll even get down tonight with this quote from Steve Jobs, that Katrina posted on Facebook today: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

I’ll say thank you to every single person I interact with who reminds me why I’m here and how much there is to share and how little there is to lose by doing so. And by every person, I mean you.

Finally, so unexpectedly, I find this: Every Jewish month has a corresponding letter in the Hebrew alphabet. The letter for Adar is Kuf. And reading about it, I am pretty much bowled over.

Letter: Kuf (ק)

The letter kuf means “monkey” (קוף), the symbol of laughter of the month of Adar. In accordance with the idiom “as a monkey in the face of man,” the kuf also symbolizes masquerade, an accepted custom of Purim. Before the miracle of Purim, God Himself “hid His face” from His children Israel (in the entire story of Purim, as related in the book of Esther, His Name does not appear even once). By initially hiding one’s true identity, pretending to be someone else, the innermost essence of one’s true self becomes revealed. On Purim, we reach the level of the “unknowable head” (“the head that does not know itself nor is known to others”), the state of total existential hiddeness of self from self, for the sake of “giving birth” to one’s ultimate self anew.

The word kuf also means the “eye of a needle.” The sages teach us that even in the most irrational dream one cannot see an elephant passing through the eye of a needle. Yet, on Purim one experiences this great wonder, which, in Kabbalah and Chassidut, symbolizes the truly infinite essence of God’s transcendent light entering into the finite context of physical reality and revealing itself in full to the Jewish soul.

The innermost essence of one’s true self, unmasked. An irrational dream, and the great wonder of an elephant passing through the eye of a needle. Life manifest. Onward with joy.

Image: Kuf, by Eli Serabeth

Spa Day

5749aa8a38984b91eef5c64bf4ddecb2The day started out beautifully. Simply. Coffee, of course. Straightening up around the house–emptying trash and recycling, washing a sinkful of dishes by hand, picking up bits and pieces of trash from the living room, where the girls made Valentines for their classmates Thursday night.

Sweeping the floor, folding and putting away piles of clothes.

This kind of activity pleases me greatly, especially when it’s not the end of the workday but rather Saturday morning, the whole weekend ahead of us.

I found my way to the green yoga mat I didn’t set foot on for most of this past week, a week that alternated between days that felt lucid and easy and days  that felt slogging and heavy and long. I completed two videos from this free 30 Day Yoga Challenge, with a teacher named Erin Motz. I’ve been enjoying these; they are short (between 12 and 20 minutes), and often I keep going when one is over, following whatever other poses my body asks for and needs.

Mani was in our bedroom with her timer set for one hour, working on her novel. Later, we’d both comment on how good it felt, to have our space filled with that kind of concentration, each of us doing something we say we want to do but have had periods of not making time for. “It feels like how we’re going to live,” she said. “It’s how we are living,” I noted. And then she added that she’d almost said, “It’s how we want to live.” We both smiled at this sequence–from want to, to going to, to neither wanting or waiting, but living.

At the end of my practice, I spent quite a while lying on the floor in savasana with my arms stretched out at my sides, body long, breath easy. When I placed my hands in prayer position, I brought them to my heart and held them there for a good long while, offering thanks for so many things, and praying for many things, too. The mat faces the bookshelf in the living room, and earlier I’d had to resist the impulse to start fussing with the books while I was in upward dog. Now, though, I was sitting up. I bowed to the floor, then reached for one book at a time, without thinking about which one or why.

One after another, the books I pulled and the pages I opened to amazed me; some would clearly work their way into a new writing prompt (I’m going to work on the ones for April tomorrow); others reminded me of something I needed to hear; and in one, I found a homemade bookmark from an artist friend, painted on one side with a beautiful handwritten note dated June, 2008 on the other: Trust gravity. As you embark on each moment’s journey of light and dark and mystery, feel held, grounded, by this nourishing force. The book this was tucked into was “Bird by Bird,” in a chapter called “Writing a Present.”

I went into the kitchen after that, clutching a stack of books. Mani was washing a pot to cook rice. I went up behind her and nuzzled her shoulder, feeling grateful for the quiet within and around us. I showered and fixed myself a breakfast of fried eggs and toast and juice. Mani read the most recent installments from her novel to me, and I sat on the edge of the bed and on the edge of my seat, listening, visualizing the scenes as if it’s a book that’s already complete, which I am quite convinced it is and that she’s just channeling it. It’s that good.

The next few hours passed with us just here. We had a couple of bouts of debating whether she felt well enough to go out; her blood pressure and potassium have been very low, which can cause–and has been causing–significant light-headedness and heart palpitations. As much as we were both feeling a bit cooped up and wanting to get out of the house together, we decided it’d be better for her not to push it. The landlord came by to change some lightbulbs. Mani made another pot of rice. She read me this moving story about an Orthodox Jewish family with a gay teenaged son, and how they’d chosen to move to a brand-new community where he was accepted and they were welcomed.

I made a batch of chocolate-chip cookies.

At this point it was 3:30pm. Suddenly a little feeling of The Day is Going By Too Quickly started to seep in. We needed a few groceries; I wanted to bring cookies over to my parents’ house, where my dad’s recovering from surgery (and woo-hoo we got him hooked on “Breaking Bad”–I can’t tell you how irrationally happy this makes me; and only he could compare it to a Dickens novel and have that make perfect sense).

The snow was starting to come down more heavily by then. My parents were very happy for the cookies. The car was none too happy about the roads, but I made it to Stop & Shop. While I was in the deodorant aisle reading ingredients and trying to find something fragrance-free, the phone rang. It was Aviva, calling from Virginia. She and Pearl and their dad are on a road trip for the school break. She sounded giddy at the 45-degree temps there and asked if it was snowing here. She said, “No snow here! Just God Rays!” I still don’t know what God Rays are, but in my mind they are rays of sunshine with a southern accent.

I went to the Starbucks drive-through for a latte, then drove home. I made it about 4/5 of the way up the driveway before the front left tire got stuck, just spinning and spinning against an ever-deepening groove of snow. At this point, I could feel how my mood had shifted. I was annoyed, irritable, cranky, and absolutely sick and tired of winter. One of the downstairs neighbors, a college student who wears leather slippers and likes to cook, came outside and offered to help. He got in the driver’s seat while I attacked the problem spot with a shovel, loosening things up enough for him to gun it the rest of the way to the top of the driveway. I felt like I needed a nap after that, or to scream, or a good cry. Or all three maybe.

Mani was where I’d left her an hour or so earlier. I was glad to see her. We’d both had a funky afternoon after a really sweet morning. All in a day. She asked how I was and I told her I was in a mood, or a mood had covered me like saran wrap, and all the while there was the voice over, the one that asks God not to listen for ten minutes while I kvetch. Why don’t I want God to listen? First of all, God surely has better things to do. Also, it’s not the message I want to send. That said, feelings are just feelings and there’s no better way past but through the meh and the wah.

“I want a spa day,” I told her, a little sheepishly. She closed her computer and turned to me. “I have what might sound like a stupid Poor White Trash question, but… what exactly is a Spa Day?” I cracked up. Sometimes our socioeconomically different backgrounds birth the best conversations. I began describing my shallow dream day, the one where we spend hours–the steam room and the sauna, a waterfall surely, all kinds of treatments with delicious products with ridiculous names, and heavy, soft robes, and a pool and sunshine and… And then I got teary and said really it just feels like all work and winter and I want a vacation and for a variety of Very Real Reasons that is not in our cards right now, and it’s hard for me to admit wanting to be spoiled in this way.

That’s when I burst into tears.

She pulled my head to her chest and I sank into the perfect way we fit together. “Julianna was right, at our wedding, when she said you are such a beautiful crier,” she said.” I looked up at her. “Really?”

“Yes,” she said. “It’s like Katherine Hepburn, those old movies where they show the woman from the side, and her tears are lovely and her make-up’s not even smudged. Me, when I cry, I get all blotchy and mottled and it looks like the world ended on my face.”

At that I laughed and settled even more deeply against her warm and firm embrace. Then we talked and talked about Spa Day, and how she’d get a massage but then go eat a $25 bowl of gelato while I indulged in all the other things she’d find boring, and how much she wants to do that for me.

“If I had to choose between this and a Spa Day, there’d be no contest,” I whispered.

“Spa Day,” she said, all deadpan. We both laughed then.

“I want both,” I said. Feeling, in that moment, that it’s really ok to ask for more–especially when I always come back to knowing that I already have everything I need.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Frigid Friday Morning Vows

a06e6f313ebf28aa8f70d61cb2b58154I vow to keep coming back to center. Which means sometimes going to sleep earlier, especially when I see the clear signs–overwhelm, self-doubt–and to let the signs be gentle rather than experiencing them as harsh.

I vow not to take it personally.

I vow to release the arrogance of thinking it must have been something I said, something I did. To spare myself and others the exhausting hamster wheel of that cycle.

I vow to not buy into the tyranny and myth of women comparing ourselves to each other, which is the surest way to abandon both self and other, squandering our wisdom and bounty that could otherwise be shared, given, taken, exchanged, cherished, and life-changing. 

I vow to pause, often and just in time when I’m precariously perched at the edge of that rabbit hole.

I vow to step back from the traps my imagination would have me believe are real, and to do whatever it takes in the moment to return to what IS real: a body, a room, quiet of the woods or the embrace or the aloneness when the mind would be a madhouse.

I vow to love and be loved even when lovability feels distant and I’m scared.

I vow to enjoy the moments when they come like the gifts that they are–like last night, when I gave Aviva a piggyback ride from my room to hers, her strong body firmly clamped around mine and only slightly smaller until we lost our balance and tumbled and fell down on her bed laughing.

I vow to remember that all of it is a choice. Everything. Even when it doesn’t seem like a choice and I’d never in a million years deem the alternative an option.

I vow to remember that my job here on the planet is not to make sure everyone feels good, but to be available from within boundaries that hold and shift and endlessly change form, molding to the shape of the days I can truly call blessed to be here, which is all the days. This is the vehicle of true presence.

I vow to recognize that it is not up to me, to surrender the hard work of ego and relax into the freedom that is always there, waiting for me to come home.

**

Photo origin unknown. (Anyone have any suggestions for this, by the way? I found it on Pinterest but it led to a Tumblr page with no credit.) 

I’m Not Pretending

1168695fc86a72f4724d2b5ad773b270“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut, from Mother Night

I’m not pretending I had the patience to let the spinach-egg-cheese mixture sit in the fridge for an entire hour.

I’m not pretending I can’t wait until you can cook for us again.

I’m not pretending I know how to parent a pre-adolescent girl but am doing it anyway. I’m not pretending when I say, “Because I said so,” or when I say, “Because I love you,” or when I say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day,” or when I say, “Woah, that movie really blew your mind, huh?”

I’m not pretending to brush the phyllo dough with two sticks of melted butter.

I’m not pretending when I open the driver’s side door and the snow all falls onto the seat and I groan because suddenly, winter feels long and deep, my jeans are wet, and I’m ready for spring.

I’m not pretending when my energy is exuberant, an exclamation point.

I’m not pretending when I’m out of juice and the mind is just blank, and I feel I have nothing useful to write. I’m not pretending to play Candy Soda Crush.

I’m not pretending when I read the Naughty Little Sister stories at bedtime and whisper in her ear that she has such a kind and generous heart, and I’m not pretending to keep reading aloud even after she’s asleep, because I want to see how the story ends.

I’m not pretending when I say I never want you to silence yourself.

I’m not pretending when I say I felt silenced, and this probably explains why I confuse setting clear boundaries and expectations with fear of shutting them down.

I’m not pretending when I say tonight I feel like the man. Not The Man, mind you. But your man, yes. Leonard-Cohen style.

I’m not pretending when I go out without showering and my hair looks like the squirrels’ nests in the winter pines.

I’m not pretending when I read a magnificent essay that moves me to tears and makes me think, “Damn, I wish I’d written that,” and “I am so grateful she wrote that.”

I’m not pretending when I have a pang of envy chased by the flick of a switch that says, “I am so happy for her.”

I’m not pretending when I wake up filled with last night’s words, or last night’s dreams, or last night’s loving.

I’m not pretending when I prepare the espresso pot the night before, so that all I have to do in the morning is run naked into the kitchen to turn the burner on high.

I’m not pretending when I pull over to take a picture, because the light is stunning.

I’m not pretending when I say I am glad your future self resembles Audrey Hepburn, and yes, our bedroom should face the ocean.

I’m not pretending when I wonder if I can possibly keep up. I’m not pretending when I question myself. I’m not pretending when I know where I belong. I’m not pretending when I know where I don’t.

I’m not pretending when I press my face against your back and tell you I really, really like you.

I’m not pretending when I poke my head into the living room to say, “I come bearing good news: Snow day tomorrow!”

I’m not pretending when I dream about the house under construction the same night you dream about the house where your hair is wrapped high atop your head in a gorgeous scarf and the same night a kindred spirit in Iowa dreams she came to visit us at our house and we are selling art, and we are all so happy to see each other and hug in person.

I’m not pretending when I thank God in the grocery checkout line. When I remember being nine and instantaneously go a little easier. When I ask, “What’s on your mind?”

I’m not pretending when I am doing my best and when I say I’m so far behind, I’m ahead, and when I say where’s the manual, and when I remember the future and when I see today in retrospect yet can’t possibly know in this moment how to do things better or differently, other than to try things on, throw things out, and stay willing and awake.

I’m not pretending to live or pretending to love or pretending to parent or pretending to write or pretending to work.

I’m not pretending I don’t stumble and trip in the same deep grooves. I’m not pretending when I’m in a great mood and I want to hug everyone. I’m not pretending when I cross over into the next aisle over to avoid chatting. I’m not pretending when I ask the bagger how his day is going.

I’m not pretending when my legs are trembling and my arms are shaking and I lose my balance three times in a row. I’m not pretending when I tell them they need to wait twenty minutes. I’m not pretending when I say, “I’m all yours. Tell me.”

I’m not pretending to know how. I’m not pretending to fail. I’m not pretending to succeed. I’m not pretending to predict or speculate, and I’m not pretending the past was or the future will be better.

I’m not pretending to be here.

I’m not pretending to know what’s it like, to be you. But I want to know. If you try to show me, tell me, I will put down my phone and close the computer and stop doing the dishes and sit down.

I will not pretend to pay attention. I will not pretend to listen. I will not pretend to understand if I don’t. But I will show up, for as long as you don’t pretend to let me.

**

I just decided, in the writing of this, that my next blog post will have to answer to this one, turn it on its head by considering all the ways I’m pretending. Because both are a kind of truth and freedom and need. And there is, has to be, room for all of it.

Sweat. Glow. Say Hello.

10606376_10205255881133125_3157333390224524601_nI haven’t practiced yoga regularly in I don’t know how long. Yesterday, I decided to go to a 5:00pm class in town, but I woke up from a nap at 4:15pm starving, and knew I’d be in trouble if I went to a 90-minute class without eating something nourishing. So I compromised. I cooked some chicken and spinach and rolled it up in a tortilla, changed my clothes, chose a 75-minute podcast on Apple TV with no idea what to expect, rolled out my mat, and began.

Wow.

Sweat.

Muscles I’d forgotten I had. Breath returning like a very forgiving friend. Shaking thighs. Lengthen, contract, reach, up, down, deepen, rest. After savasana, I came into the bedroom. Mani said I was glowing, that my eyes looked almost glassy. Alive. I looked in the mirror and saw that she was right.

So my intention is to do this everyday between now and March 20, the first day of spring. To bring some curiosity to how I will feel, what will happen, if I sweat in my own living room every single day for the next many weeks, as we watch the days lengthen and the light return.

Today is a snowday. There is no school. The kids are with their dad. And there is no work for me, which means I get to stay home with Mani. This last part makes me very happy. We woke up inexplicably early with no alarm. I made myself breakfast, a big bowl of oatmeal with whole milk and raisins and maple syrup (I am trying to be better about feeding myself well; I have a terrible tendency to wait until my blood sugar is all wonky and, as my sister would say in Hebrew, ze lo tov–this is not good). I read my own prompt and did the ten-minute freewrite by hand for my new writing group, which officially begins today, then typed it up to share. I logged into MailChimp and completed the tenth prompt for the March group.

And I practiced. I chose a different podcast this time, noticing how I responded to someone else’s voice and instruction. It was a recording of a live class, and I could hear the collective inhales and exhales of the others, though I was alone in the room. The standing poses left me dripping sweat and facing my own incessant thoughts of “this is hard” and “I cannot possibly stay like this for three more breaths.” I improvised a couple of times (what is “lizard” pose?? I had no idea, and did pigeon instead). Blessed corpse. Nothing to do. A pounding pulse slowing to normal. Snow falling steadily outside the south-facing, second-story windows of our apartment. Blanketed in quiet.

And then: That glow again. And the craziest hair ever. The satisfaction that comes from doing the thing rather than talking about doing the thing. A long, hot shower. A new library book. The whole rest of the day. A luxurious life, in so many ways. Really.

I’m not going to call it a “challenge” or a “goal.” I’m just going to show up, to whatever the mat holds. Relief, tears, strength, the impulse to give up, forehead to the floor, fingers like arrows shooting upward, a whole body–not parts–and a whole self, each moment entire and complete and neutral other than any of the many labels and judgments I might slap on it.

It takes so little to do something. Anything. Organize the pantry, scrub the shower stall in our little bathroom, cook hot food, respond to the email, return the phone call, look over at the person who loves you to ask, “How can I serve and support you today?”

Or just to look in the mirror, take a good, long look into your own eyes, smile a little back at yourself, and say something nice. It’s easy.

It might even make you glow a little.