Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hello: Living Without Tragedy

A strange couple of words have been echoing through my head this week: "Okay-dokey."

These are not words that I use myself, nor words that many people in my circle find themselves exclaiming.

But this week they are the words the husband of a coworker of mine uttered when he learned the cancer in his body has metastasized to his brain and that he should start hospice care. "Okay-dokey" he said to the doctor delivering the news. "Okay-dokey" he said to the certainty his days are numbered.

I've thought about him often this week - and the matter-o-fact way he is facing his mortality - and I've thought about his wife (my coworker) who is likely walking down a path in her marriage that she never thought to plan for. I also thought how this woman just lost her mom, also to a freak illness that came out of nowhere and wiped away her life in the blink of an eye.

Likely, she will have lost both her Mom and her husband before Thanksgiving, just a few weeks apart from each other. She will be forced to sit down to a feast and reflect on what she is grateful for, two noticeably empty chairs at the table, death hanging in the air.

The unfairness of it all just takes your breath away.

Her tragedy has me thinking about the ways personal tragedies inspire us or motivate us in ways that "normal" life often doesn't.

When someone passes away, their family and friends (usually) mourn their loss and speak to how important and wonderful the deceased person was. This is what a eulogy is - a moment to reflect, celebrate, honor, and love the life that is now gone.

And when someone dies too young or in a freak accident, you read in the paper how kind or generous they were, what a good friend and sibling they were, how they had so much potential.

When people are diagnosed with an incurable disease or have a near-death experience, you hear about "bucket lists," or the ways they will change for the better, the things they are now inspired to do. People who've gone through something like this are often more open to those in their life about how much they cherish and love them.

I don't think it should take tragedy for us to be honest with those in our lives, to express our deep love and gratitude for our relationships, and to be the person we want to be.

Thus I am spending some time thinking about living without tragedy, but still living the life we want and still being the best friend/sister/coworker/girlfriend/daughter/etc we can be.

Tonight I was driving to a friend's house for our Sunday night newish tradition of watching The Walking Dead, eating popcorn, and making fun of the bad writing and each other.

As I was driving, I got this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Suddenly the day washed over me: sleeping in, an hour at the gym, raking up the blanket of leaves in my yard, going to the Co-op, watching an episode of Sherlock, baking some scones, making lunch for the week, and now heading to a friend's house. Honestly, pretty mundane. But as I drove the half mile to his home I was grateful for so much: living in a place where I have friends in my "hood" and can drive over on a Sunday night just to hang for an hour; having a yard to care for and beautiful leaves to rake into colorful piles; having a kitchen to make food in; having a great grocery store a mile away; having the time to do a lot of little nothing tasks that actually make me quite happy.

It reminded me of these moments I experienced while portaging in the Boundary Waters, when I would have the very heavy canoe on my shoulders and I would just start to think I couldn't go any further, when suddenly the canoe would almost feel weightless. It was always sudden and brief, but having just that tiny moment of relief made me push on a few more steps. It made me realize it was possible to have that moment of clarity and comfort during a very difficult time.

I was brought back to this moment tonight as I drove to my friend's and felt myself fill with gratitude, out of the blue. It was like the world had been pushing on me all week, and suddenly something opened up to remind me the little ways I have nothing weighing on me, the many ways I am blessed.

To live without tragedy and still be able to be grateful for the leaves you are raking, the scones you are burning in the oven, the coleslaw you are making up as you go, the day mostly spent alone until you find yourself laughing next to a friend...this is when I feel truly lucky. To live without tragedy and still be able to see the gift of my not-so-extraordinary life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Things To Do Besides Watch the "Debate"

  • Feel no regret that you no longer own a TV.
  • Chop up a bunch of crunchy vegetables to make this kickass salad.
  • Oh, and while you are not wasting your precious time listening to two grown men interrupt and belittle each other, you might also have time to make this delicious soup.
  • Visit Amazon to buy your favorite children's book for an upcoming baby shower.
  • Pause to feel grateful for the kids coming into the world; then feel nervous for a little bit for the world they are being born into; and finally feel hopeful for how we can make the world better. 
  • Spend just a few minutes counting your blessings: friends you love, places you've traveled, gardens you've built, the future you're actively creating.
  • Logically it would now be wise to waste some time looking at orange shoes.
  • End the night laughing about one of our more memorable past leaders. He sure said the darnedest things.
  • It's a lot more funny in hindsight than it is in real time, eh?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do Nothing

Where has the summer gone? Where has October gone? Where has all my time gone? Where have my twenties gone? (Too dramatic.)

Yikes. It's been an annoyingly, stupidly busy few weeks and I can't say there is actually much worth noting within those weeks. I am moving forward on my first-ever home renovation and I am therefore having nightmares constantly, where essentially I second guess this decision in every way possible. Yet, I am still moving forward. I AM MAKING THIS HOUSE BETTER, DAMMIT.

There's also been a lot of gym time within these last few weeks, including a crazy circuit class at my Y that had me begging for mercy just during what they called "warm ups." Ha! Humbling.

I've also been saying YES to way too many things. The problem is, it's all things I want to say yes to. This is a new dilemma. Sometimes I worried that I was making myself busy just because of some sick ego thing or some fear of what being 'not busy' would do for my sense of self. Like, better be busy than alone and suddenly discovering I'm not just alone, but actually lonely. (That's the fear, right?) 

But suddenly my busy-ness and saying YES to all these things offered to me is because I genuinely want to do all these things. When that happens, it is so much harder to say NO. And why would I say NO? Perhaps because my balance, health, and well-being are also linked to not being so busy that I fall into bed exhausted at the end of each day, sighing as my body struggles to rest after a day that feels like it contained a weeks worth of 'stuff.'

So, I am going to try really hard to have at least one 'do nothing' day a week. I used to be a lot better about this, and reserved my Sundays for what I referred to as a "sabbath day" or a personal day of rest. Though not religious, I found the symbolism of a sabbath day too good to pass up. Some of these days were actually rather busy - brunch with friends, a walk around the neighborhood, cleaning the house, going to a meditation class, etc. Others, I literally just sat on my ass. But the point was to only do what I was sincerely moved to do: which sometimes meant a lot and sometimes meant nothing at all.

After looking back over my last two months, I think I have fallen out of this habit in a way that is not so good for my emotional, physical, or mental well-being. So I am going to have some damn DO NOTHING days and they are soon as I have time.

I guess that's the problem.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Poetry that Inspires: Marge Piercy

I read a lot of Marge Piercy in the fall. Even though September has come and gone, I find myself returning again and again to this poem by her.

I mean, why didn't I write these lines first:

"There is a turn in things
that makes the heart catch"

"In the perfect
moment the future coils,
a tree inside a pit."


And then there is her poem "To Have Without Holding" with a first line that made me grunt from my most basic, animal being because of it's deep, simple truth.  Autumn is the perfect season to curl up with a great book of poetry, and sigh or grunt aloud to the lines that resonate with our truest selves.

"To Have Without Holding"

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can't do it, you say it's killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
you float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor's button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fall Nostalgia


Or as I like to think of it: the sentimental season.

Wow, it sure has been an interesting few days around these parts. It doesn't take much to put my brain into complete nostalgic over-drive during autumn. This time of year I find myself thinking about a handful of topics in constant rotation: past relationships, growing older, and farming. 

Many of my relationships have started in the fall, so I tend to feel this strange mixture of hope - maybe I'll find someone great (and lasting) this fall - and utter, ultimate, jaded despair. Ha! How's that for honest? There are definitely relationship memories that are specific to this season - first kisses on hay bales, walks under a harvest moon with thermos' of steaming hot cider, the boy who introduced me to Neil Young, whiskey-inspired confessions in the pantry (yes pantry), and a million other mundane but important snapshots of past autumn loves.

I also think about the big life questions: who do I want to be? What do I mean when I say I want to be "useful" and "good" in the world? What is enough for me? What is success? Failure? How much is ego driving my desires? How much is fear holding me back? I spend a lot of time in the autumn sitting and thinking about how little I know. 

Farming is the strongest memory that visits me during the fall. Six years ago when I was farming, this was the point in time when I actually, finally felt like a farmer. I remember waking up while it was still pitch black outside and working up until the point it was dark again. I can almost feel the soreness of my muscles and the fatigue that you couldn't give in to because it was so close to being over - you were this close to the season's end. When I close my eyes, I see myself harvesting broccoli in an early season snow, wearing thick, leather gloves to protect my hands from the chill. I vividly recall pushing a cart full of carrots up a hill and marveling at how my arms were - for the first and only time in my life - stronger than my legs. I remember enjoying the harvest so much more during the fall than at any other point in the season- seeing the bounty as I visited the root cellar and thinking to myself "we created this." The crispness, vitality, and peace of that time is something that brings me great joy, but also haunts me a bit. The memories come flooding back to me and I'm not sure if I feel closer to it or further away. 

So, today, after discussing much of this with a dear, dear friend, I went out to my backyard and gathered the last bits of the season in the closest thing I've got to 'the farm.' I wanted to remember how I am trying - in my urban life after the farm - to not lose this part of myself:

It was a little pathetic, especially compared to the 20 pumpkins from last year and the hundreds on the farm, but I loved going around the yard and finding small treasures here and there. There are enough green tomatoes for a green tomato pie (don't knock it till ya try it), a handful of rainbow carrots, a few delicata squash, some last eggplant, a few onions, a couple of beets, and some awesome decorative gourds. Yes, I promptly arranged the gourds in a bowl in my house.

Then, I took the leaves from throughout my garden and stuffed them into one of the many house-warming gifts my Mom gave me when I bought old blue three years ago:

This reminds me so much of my childhood home, it tugs at my heart a little.

It's the sentimental season though, so it's only fitting.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Early October Inspirations

Good beautiful questions, such as: Can art not only raise awareness of current ecological issues, but can it also propose solutions to those problems?

Falling down seven times, but getting up eight times.

Chris Kluwe.

Revisiting the past in an inventive, thoughtful way.

Laughing through the pain.