Anticipation

7 04 2017

“If you come at four in the afternoon, I’ll begin to be happy by three.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Last night I had dinner with my friend Molly and her two daughters, Kate and Anne. After a somewhat chaotic time together at the table, Molly and Anne wandered away to do dishes and instigate mayhem (I’ll let you guess who did what), while Kate and I stayed at the table for a few minutes of chatting.

“I have two things I’m excited about for tomorrow,” said Kate (my 6 year old goddaughter). “Science club! And making my bumble bee punch-out with Miss Paige.”

After a brief silence, she exclaimed, “Wait! I have three things I’m excited about for tomorrow!” Counting on her fingers, Kate enumerated, “Science club, making my bee, AND baking cookies with Aunt Candy!” She smiled almost triumphantly, her eyes sparkling and her cheeks rosy with sheer happiness.

Later, on the drive across town to my apartment, I tried to think of three things I could be excited about for the coming day. “I’m excited this honking rain might stop” was about all I could come up with. It wasn’t exactly the vibe I was going for; I wanted the shiny-eyed anticipation Kate displayed, not mere relief that something depressing would cease.

The thing is, I know I’m the only one who can make that happen. Excitement and anticipation come pretty naturally when you’re a kid; you have to choose them as an adult. So I’m experimenting with choosing something to be excited about each day. And if there isn’t already something planned that fits the bill, I’ll pencil something special in – an afternoon walk, pick up some flowers at the grocery store, order a new book of poetry (Rising to the Rim by Carol Tyx, Brick Road Poetry Press is a good buy!), etc.

I’m not sure where the experiment will take me, but I can tell you this: when I woke up to sunny skies this morning, it was a lot easier to imagine exciting things were about to happen!





Finite Math

13 08 2015

At 5:15 a.m. my neighbor begins making breakfast. A strange trick of acoustics in this building means that, in my upstairs bedroom, I hear every rattle and bang in their downstairs kitchen. I roll over and attempt a return to slumber.

Some days, that works. Some days I stretch my sleep-sore muscles and fall gracefully, gratefully back asleep. But not today. Today, I stretch and wonder about that heaviness in my leg – is it a sign? Should I see the doctor? From there, the worries and anxieties held at bay while I sleep come marching forward, a neurotic, necrotic parade.

Knowing sleep will not return at this point, I get up. In my kitchen, I begin the morning ritual of making my double shot Americano. Add hot water and the finely ground espresso becomes the rich loamy soil in which I will plant a new day. Whether it will be a good day, productive and interactive – or not- is often determined in this moment.

My friend Wendy has spent the last seventeen years telling her children that they have a choice – if you don’t like how you feel in this moment, choose to feel differently. Happiness isn’t a destination, its a choice you make in every moment of action or reaction. I watch her girls, all teenagers now, and see them apply this choice. It is like the sun emerging from clouds, that moment.

This morning, as I sip my coffee, it feels like a herculean task, that reframing of mindset. I’m not sure I’m up to it. I turn on my computer, and find Parker Palmer’s weekly “On Being” blog post, this week called “Poetry as Sacrament: Disentangling from the Darkness”, in which he meditates beautifully on Mary Oliver’s poem “Landscape”:

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive.

So far, I think (using the calculator function on my phone) that is 19,726 mornings. I google the question, “How many decisions per day?” and read:

According to multiple sources on the Internet, the average amount of remotely conscious decisions an adult makes each day equals about 35,000.

690,410,000 decisions and counting. My first thought is “No wonder I don’t want to decide where to have dinner or what book to read for book club.” I think of texting my younger friends and letting them know they haven’t used theirs up yet, so from now on they must choose – my decider is worn out from overuse.

My next thought, “How many of those ‘remotely conscious decisions’ were good ones? How many were ‘the right’ ones?” No function on my smartphone could ever calculate that number. This I know: it falls somewhere between 1 and 690,410,000.

That’s as far as math will take me; there’s no point in attempting to calculate the incalculable. There’s no point in lingering over that parade of worries that began its march through my head while I was still in bed this morning. Of the approximately 35,000 decisions I will make today, some will be good ones. Some will not. Mistakes will happen. Anxiety in advance and obsessive second-guessing afterwards won’t change that reality.

Like Wendy’s girls, I have a choice. I can hold the doors of my heart open so that my choices can be made from the place of infinite things (like mission, like compassion, like gratitude). Or I can close those doors, out of worry or indecision or just plain inattention, and be “as good as dead”, rendering my choices lifeless as well.

When I think of it this way I say: let my inevitable mistakes be life-affirming ones; let my errors of judgment emerge from seeing the best in others; let me work to stay centered enough that my infinite humanity, rather than my finite ego, decides. Choose; then move on.

19,726 mornings. And every morning, so far, I am alive.

 

 

 





To My Post-Weight Loss Body

9 10 2014

I have been told I should love you.

I have been asked why I hate you.

Love and hate: the extremities of emotion. What I feel toward you is neither, yet both: extreme in its measure of complexity rather than its static position on an axis.

When it comes to their bodies, even poets vacillate between love:

Clifton swinging her jazzy hips;
Piercy belly bumping her lover;
Whitman singing the body electric…

And hate:

Roethke’s “rags of anatomy”,
Amichai betrayed by hair’s sprouting and Corso by it’s routing;
countless unnamed others using their words to reach an armistice on this war’s very personal front…

If much of humanity swings on that pendulum, loving you and hating you, how am I to reconcile my own internal tug of war?

I am proud of you:

The vigor of muscle and bone, their strength;
The tenacity of heart and lungs, their endurance;
The willingness to rise to the occasion when I mistreated you and, again, when I needed you to recover myself.

Am I also ashamed of you?

I keep you covered from the eyes of others;
I avert my own gaze in bath and dressing rooms;
I refuse the sleeveless and eschew summer beaches.

Or is what seems to be shame, instead, a self-protective instinct? A desire to hold safe and sacred “this skin, this sac of dung and joy” described by yet another poet*? Am I afraid that eyes will see not the triumph,but the scarred aftermath of the battle we waged to regain wholeness?

Will see not your death-defying resilience, but the false, sagging appearance of its opposite?

I am not touting this ambivalence as either good or bad. I’m attempting to come to terms with the “what is”

As opposed to the “what I wish it was”.

It’s one of the things you, my own body, have taught me:
What IS is always infinitely greater than we anticipate,
While also often less than we hope for.

If I need a reason to hate you, that might be enough.

In the end, though, we’re in this together. Wherever we go, however I feel about you.

If I need a reason to love you, that ought to suffice.

***********************************************************

Note: This piece was written as an exercise for my writer’s group – our assignment: to “write a toast to someone or something important to you”. Thanks to the Rider Writers for the inspiration, and the encouragement to experiment.

* The poem quoted, above (“…this skin, this sac of dung & joy”) is Yusef Komunyakaa. Here’s a link to his poem, “Anodyne” – a must-read exploration of body-love! I love his closing, which I quote here in case you don’t go to the poem in its entirety:

I love this body, this
solo & ragtime jubilee
behind the left nipple,
because I know I was born
to wear out at least
one hundred angels.





Reframing

2 02 2012

When my sister and I spoke for the first time about her second breast cancer diagnosis, she told me that considering her husband’s cancer, and  hers, there had been just too many times when they had to put their lives – all their plans – on hold in order to deal with a pressing health issue. She said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be learning from this, but I clearly haven’t learned it. Whatever it is, I need to get it this time, because I’m tired.” I heard her discouragement, couched though it was in self-deprecating sarcasm. My response to her was, “Perhaps you need to turn that around. Maybe you and Dave have learned to do it with such grace that you are asked to do it again to show others how. Maybe you’re not learning, maybe you’re teaching.”

Why is it so much easier to see different possibilities when we look at the lives, issues, concerns of those we love than it is when we look at our own? Reframing is an awesome tool I first learned while a graduate student, and I’ve used it in my work or when assisting friends and family who find themselves stuck. Often, as in the conversation with my sister, the shift in perspective immediately feels “right” – I know I’ve learned so much from watching her and, more important, others have told me they have too. Learning or teaching: I suspect she is doing both. It’s just that it’s easy to lose sight of the active/positive side of the equation when we’re staring straight into the reactive/negative side.

As you all know, I have been fighting to get my weight under 200 pounds. It is both a goal and a deep desire. But for two months now, I’ve been pushing and pushing and my body has been holding on tightly to each pound. The more tightly I grip my resolve (and track every calorie eaten, every calorie burned, turn down evenings out with friends, refuse a beer with my buddies at karaoke) the more tightly my body holds on to the weight. Today, I woke up after a restless night, thinking “It’s Thursday. God, I hope the scale is kind to me this morning.” It wasn’t until I was finished with the obligatory morning trip to the bathroom that I realized something was bothering me. The rings I wear all the time, and which in recent weeks have floated loosely on my fingers in danger of falling off, were cutting into my flesh. I could pry the one off my left hand, but the ring on my right hand wouldn’t budge. Severely. Bloated.

Clearly, I was not going to see a number on the scale that would make me happy.

What am I supposed to learn from this? More to the point, how can I reframe this to see an active/positive side to this frustrating situation? It wasn’t until this morning that I finally understood what my wiser friends have been telling me for weeks – I need to relax. I need to let my body do its thing and stop trying to manhandle it into submission. I need to stop seeing 200 pounds as the fulcrum point – above 200 and I am lacking, failing, still a fat girl; below 200 and I am replete, successful, thin. I need to let it go. (Which, by the way, I need to remember is not the same as letting myself go.)

As I often do in these moments of internal crisis, I looked for comfort from a favorite poet. So, I will end this post by sharing a poem – after nearly 350 posts, I can’t remember if I’ve shared this one before (sorry!). It reminds me that all I really need to do today is…be.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

–Mary Oliver





50 about 50: On Food

7 07 2011

If you have been reading this blog, or following me on Facebook, you have to know that I will be turning 50 at the end of this month. While I have made it a point to celebrate and enjoy my birthdays the past few years, I am not typically one to navel-gaze about each passing year (oh, I navel-gaze with the best of them, just not about that, generally speaking!). However, 50 feels different, in many ways. I can’t help thinking it is still too young to be the gateway to old age, but there is no denying that it is likely to be the metaphorical entrance into the second act of my life. In plays, the first act is usually longer than the second, and youth seems endless. Act I is followed by an intermission, kind of a rest period, which might be an apt description for your late 40s. Not quite your youth, but also not quite your elder years. Then: curtains up, Act II.

As I approach my birthday, I am taking-stock, thinking carefully about my life thus far and about the life I hope to live in the coming years. As a result, each Thursday blog post in July will be part of my “50 about 50” list. It won’t be a continuous list, but several lists. I have given thought as to how to organize these lists, how to share the discoveries I have made along the way, the seredipitous moments and the surprises that have contributed to who I am and what I value today. There are only 4 Thursdays in July, so one post will include a bonus list! To get started:

Ten Things I’ve Learned About Food

1.  Your tastes change over the course of a lifetime.

Ok, I’ve never been a picky eater, ask anyone. However, for many years of my life I lived without the joy of avocados. I tried them as a youngster, and did not care for them. By the time I got around to trying them again, they tasted like ambrosia. And that’s just the tip of the asparagus spear – there are many other foods that I have come to enjoy over time that I did not care for earlier in my life. It pays to be open to trying again. And sometimes again.

2.  What we know about foods and their nutritional value and physiological effects changes periodically.

So don’t completely give up anything you enjoy based on a current news report. Moderation in everything, as my former roommate Michelle Fouts was fond of saying.

3.  Food is a social justice issue.

For most of my life, I never thought about this. But even a few statistics can change your view on this if you really take them in. For example, in the U.S. in 2009, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (21.3 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.6 percent) or single men (27.8 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.9 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent). In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure. (Statistics courtesy of Feeding America) And it goes deeper than the number of people who experience hunger. The social justice issues surrounding food also include issues related to obesity, alarming increases in diabetes, the unequal access to healthy, fresh food experienced by those in economically disadvantaged communities.

4. “Food addiction” as a term is an oxymoron.

We are all addicted to food. Can’t live without it. Figuring out how to live WITH it is the important thing!

5. Oatmeal is my delicious friend.

My folks weren’t oatmeal eaters. The first time I was served oatmeal was at Camp Little Cloud when I was approximately 9. It was a gelatinous pile of what tasted like salty paste. No way! This morning, I had instant oatmeal, maple flavored, with one tablespoon of creamy, all natural peanut butter. The first spoonful elicited an audible sound of delight from deep in my throat. Almost a purr really. In the past four years, I’ve made up for the dearth of oatmeal in my early life by eating it multiple times each week. It never lets me down. When Starbucks started selling oatmeal, and fittingly named theirs “Perfect Oatmeal”, it was a happy day in Jen-land.

5. Food is a sustainability concern.

Locavore. Organic. Community Supported Agriculture. Slow Food Movement. We’ve all heard these words. It is impossible to maintain a laissez-faire stance once one begins to educate oneself about the issues. Read Michael Pollan, watch a couple of the excellent documentary films that have been produced, attend your local farmer’s market. It isn’t even difficult anymore (for those of us lucky enough to have the resources) to become aware of and begin to change our choices in accordance with a more loving stance toward our earth. I have only taken a few tentative steps, but hope to continue further down this path.

6. Not enough poetry has been written about kale.

Or really, about any of the lesser greens, root vegetables, or legumes that middle-America gave up on in favor of Chef Boyardee and Hot Pockets. Discovering these oldies but goodies has totally enriched my diet. They may not be the most beautiful, but they are arguably some of the most soulful foods going.

8. Food can, and in my opinion should, be a total sensual experience.

Mike and I made dinner one night over the Memorial Day weekend. He asked me how I managed, with such delicious leftovers in the house, to avoid bingeing on them until they were gone. I took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh scents of ginger,thyme, hand-grated nutmeg and toasted coconut flakes. I looked at the profusion of bright colors in the salad bowl and on our plates. I thought about the variety of textures in the food we were about to eat. And the answer was easy – when your food satisfies all your senses, it also satifies your hunger at a very deep level. Whenever possible, meals should be sensually fulfilling experiences. There’s no need to overeat or binge when every sense is replete.

9. Cooking for (or with) and feeding loved ones is one of life’s greatest joys.

Unless you have to do it every day. In which case it is a drudgery. I discovered the joy part back in the late 80s when I first learned to bake bread. My two roommates, the Michelles, would come home and immediately devour the first loaf while I enjoyed their delight. It continues to be one of my favorite ways to express my love for others. The drudgery part, I’ve heard from nearly every mother/wife I know.

10. I like food. Food’s my favorite.

Enough said.





I Don’t Think We Need to Know…

21 04 2011

“I don’t believe we need to know what below zero feels like.

Or why we die: that, too, I don’t think we need to know.

Why life is hard? I think not.

It’s hot inside, it’s cold out:

that’s already a lot to know…”

–from “I Don’t Think We Need to Know” by Jim Moore

This past weekend, I did something that is likely to become a thing of the past. Something that I have taken for granted is a right, but which most of the world would consider a wasteful luxury, and certainly not in the least eco-friendly. I took a four hour road trip by myself. Driving solo through the midwestern landscape, the horizon called me, if not to adventure, at least to less-familiar places, faces I didn’t already recognize.

For most of the drive, I listened to “All Things Considered” on NPR. The stories were interesting, but as we’ve all experienced, the news has a tendency to depress. I realized, speeding along the interstate, that lately I’ve thought a lot about things I’d rather NOT know – the fact that butterflies, honeybees and millions of other species are disappearing and may be gone within my limited lifetime. Or that police officers were arrested for the killings resulting in mass graves in Mexico. Or that sugar may be a toxin implicated in the rise in US cancer rates.

While I’d rather not know these things, I believe they are things I should know.

On Saturday, in Magers and Quinn, a huge independent bookstore in Minneapolis, I picked up a volume of poetry, Lightning at Dinner by Jim Moore, and discovered the poem quoted above. And during my lovely four hour drive home on Sunday, I had leisure to consider: Are there things I don’t think we need to know?

Here’s my list, delivered less poetically than Moore’s:

  • I don’t think we need to know why the sky is blue, though I’m told the answer’s easy. It is enough that it is beautiful and changeable and can handle all the prayers and dreams we confide to it.
  • Do we need to know how many germs, and what kind, are on the elevator button? I don’t think so, “Good Morning America”. Please stop telling us!
  • I doubt we need to know the illusory difference between a “certificate of live birth” and a “birth certificate”, despite some individuals’ need to keep talking about it.
  • We don’t need to know why, some days, our beds feel too comfortable to leave. Just luxuriate in that moment.
  • Do we need to know why the grass we just crossed in our bare feet was suddenly, inexplicably, wet? Let’s agree not to think about it.
  • Some people feel like home the moment we meet them. Do we need to know why, or just be grateful, ever so grateful, that they do?
  • Do we need to know the inner workings of grace? Or to pinpoint the brain’s intricate wiring that leads us to experience what we call faith? And let go of the mystery and wonder? I hope not.
  • I don’t believe we need to know how love happens, only that it does.
These are the very important thoughts I was able to dwell upon during my sinfully luxurious solitary trip home on Sunday. Do we need to know everything we know? Surely not. The things we do need to know can be awfully heavy to bear, therefore, perhaps choosing not to know some things might be a kindness we can do ourselves.
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Note to readers: What do you think we don’t need to know? Please share in the comments — that’s one thing I DO want to know!




Triple Word Tuesday

5 04 2011

PLANETIZE THE MOVEMENT