What It’s All About

Sometimes I just don’t pay attention to what is really important. Instead I   allow myself to be carried along by what strikes me at the moment. I suppose that is what happened when several months ago I agreed to attend a retreat called The Chemistry Of Connection at Garrison Institute in upstate New York. My colleague and I were familiar with two of the presenters, authors of books on mindfulness, so that meant it would probably be worthwhile. Also we were entranced by the description of the Institute – a former Capuchin monastery, overlooking the Hudson River. We skipped right over the part where the weekend was open to the general public, as well as the part where the other two speakers did not seem connected to mental health. After all, we could just skip their parts if we wanted to.

Once we realized we would need to fly into New York City we decided to stay there for a day and a half before taking the train to the Institute. Planning those days involved furiously comparing hotels and airline flights and scoping out museums. We were sure  we needed to have a quality experience before we went on to whatever that thing was we had signed up for.

The next thing I knew I was in New York City, surrounded by the sensory overload of the crowds, the traffic and the trappings of the holidays. I quickly adapted to city mode; staring straight ahead, paying attention only to what I was doing. Our advance planning paid off, for we enjoyed the Met and a food tour at the Tenement Museum without mishap.new york (35 of 99)-2  True, out hotel was overbooked for the first night, causing us to have to go “up the block” to another hotel for the night, but we were handsomely upgraded on the second night. We left New York City feeling like royalty.

We disembarked from the train at the hamlet of Garrison, which seemed to consist of four buildings and a fierce wind blowing off the Hudson River. A fast phone call to the Institute informed us that it was lunch hour, so we would have to wait in the cold for twenty minutes…unless we could find some humans to let us into one of those buildings. We crossed over the heated railroad overpass, bent on survival, past a lone man with a backpack, to said buildings, where we were  able to wheedle our way into an art gallery holiday sale. In due time, we crossed back across the tracks, past the backpack man, to wait for the shuttle.new york (92 of 99)-2

To our surprise when the shuttle arrived, that same man climbed on the shuttle with us. The shuttle driver asked us what we were here for and we told her. She mentioned that our retreat would be featuring horses. HORSES?? I heard my colleague say “I didn’t know this was a horsey weekend!” What was this retreat about, anyway?

We drove up a winding driveway to the imposing brick monastery. new york (76 of 99)-2new york (78 of 99)-2Inside we checked in and were  assigned rooms. I heard the backpack man say his name was Aaron Wolf. Wait a minute! Wasn’t that the name of one of the presenters? Quick – what had we said in the shuttle, and did it sound reasonably intelligent? In order to avoid further embarrassment we fled the reception area, barely registering the directive to report to the refectory at 5:00P.M. to be trained for the house jobs we had apparently signed up for.

We climbed the stairs to behold a long empty hallway of former monk cells. The clatter of our heels on the wide plank floor was the only sound. My cell was bathed in the weakening winter sunlight. new york (73 of 99)I turned on the radiator and made the bed with crisp white sheets. new york (41 of 99)-2This was to be my sanctuary for the next two nights. I longed to spend the whole weekend in this simple room, absorbing the peace and quiet and savoring each passing moment of the days.

But that was not to be, for I was at a retreat planned by someone else. Meaning I had not made the plan, and this made me uneasy, for I have not been able to entirely rid myself of the idea that I have control over things.new york (38 of 99)

After some time on our own my colleague and I reported to the refectory for training. There we were treated to  a thorough tour of the industrial kitchen, where it turned out that we would be doing the dishes for eighty people. And not only that, we were to eat quickly so as to report to kitchen in a timely manner. WHAT????!!! Wasn’t it bad enough that food was only available at certain times, but now when I did eat I would have to hurry? My neck muscles were clenched so tightly I’m surprised no one heard them squealing.

What to do? Embrace my control issues or move forward with as open a heart as possible? I decided upon the latter and found that the delicious and plentiful food left no room for a sense of deprivation. Many plates, cups, and glasses later I joined my co-retreatants in the meditation hall to hear Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence    and Tara Goleman, author of Emotional Alchemy   and Mind Whisperer.   Their reviews of neurobiology and the travails of the amygdala were good to hear.  I could have used some help with my own amygdala that very day.new york (75 of 99)-2

As I listened to the discussion it dawned on me that this was not a roomful of burned out therapists sitting silently diagnosing one another. In fact there were very few mental health people. Instead there were lawyers, teachers, pastors and non profit gurus, all interested in how to make better connections with others. It was heart warming to see such enthusiasm.

The next morning we met for some basic meditation and practice. Despite my having spent a lovely night in my austere cell, I was restless. I had had it in my mind that we would be given long periods of time for personal reflection, but instead we were to interact with one another. I have a hard time sitting still and had neglected to bring my knitting. I longed to take to the hiking paths on my own. But I stayed, either because of some inner strength or the desire not to call attention to myself by getting up and leaving. I’ll say it was a well of inner resolve.new york (87 of 99)-2

That  resolve was put to the test that afternoon when we met outside in the wind for a demonstration by a horse whisperer. His goal I believe was to reinforce the point that in order to have a true connection, both parties must feel safe and respected. I found I was mesmerized by R.J. the horse whisperer, whose gentle way of the horses conveyed such love and caring. He reminded us that it is better to lead by suggestion than to rely on intimidation.new york (51 of 99)

Sitting on that cold bench, I had to be honest with myself. How many times did I enter a new situation fully convinced that I know the right thing to do and that others should just do as I say? Had I not come to this very retreat all tied up in my own agenda? This was certainly food for thought.

Our evening session was led by Dr. Aaron Wolf, the man I had been too self important to notice at the train station. Who knew that Dr. Wolf was a well known hydrologist and known internationally for helping mediate disputes over water rights? He was so kind that I cannot believe he held my snub against him; after all I had just come from the big city where we don’t approach strange men. Still… Anyway, in his dynamic way he showed his approach to conflict resolution: know your own process, and stop, breathe, and listen.new york (83 of 99)-2

Suddenly it was Sunday morning, and time for the wrap up session. The chairs were arranged in a circle, to reinforce the equality among the participants. Every person was allowed to comment briefly or ask a question. I chose not to speak,because I tend to be long winded, but if I had I would have said how fortunate I felt to have stumbled upon this diverse group in such peaceful surroundings, and from such an apparently unlikely team of a husband and wife, a horse whisperer and a hydrologist to have learned such valuable lessons about how to respect myself and others. That I need to approach situations without my own agenda if I hope to make a true connection. That washing the dishes wan’t so bad. That though I had no idea what this weekend was supposed to be about, I had learned just what I was supposed to. Guess that’s what it was all about!new york (98 of 99)-2

San Francisco Sleuth

As though I were invisible I slid through the revolving door of my airport hotel and kept going  on foot. No need for the doormen to know my plans. Besides, the Millbrae Bart Station wasn’t too far to walk, even for a dame of my age. I was dressed to fit in with the population: scarf, stylish shoes, sunglasses, and dark jeans. I had an old Bart card with eleven dollars on it, so I went through the turnstile with the practiced boredom of a native. So far so good.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I was wearing the ones on the right.

I could have sworn I used to take the Bay Point train out of Millbrae, so there was a bit of awkwardness when a Bart employee had to tell me I just needed to get on this Dublin train, but I don’t think anyone saw that. In just a few snaps of my gum I was at the 16th and Mission station, ready for some San Francisco sleuthing.

Why San Francisco? Because I was THERE, wise guy, because I was THERE. And a sleuth gets to sleuthing wherever she she may be. Haven’t you read Harriet The Spy?

Rising from the bowels of the 16th and Mission terminal I mixed in with the human flotsam milling outside the station. After a few purposeful turns around the square I found  the Fillmore 22 Bus stop just where I expected it to be, at the edge of the road.  I had just cased my fellow riders in the bus shelter when I realized I needed to be on the other side of the street.

I was just in time to board that bus, but  my intuition, borne of long experience, told me to  check with  the bus driver  who sent me back to the original spot across the street. With moves like these I  was confident no one could have followed me. At last I boarded the correct bus, blending in easily with the populace. My destination: Portrero Hill, where I was to meet a couple of operatives.

We saw each other the minute I stepped into Chez Papa Bistrot, the agreed upon  rendezvous. I’m sorry to say they were there first, but they had chosen wisely. Their table had a clear view of the entrance and exit. Mark was dressed in his customary black, while David, with his dark rimmed glasses looked the part of a hapless  professor. Well played, gentleman, I nodded to myself. These men could be at home in any large metropolis, watching, noticing, making things happen, with no one any the wiser.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

There was no mystery here; the food was delicious.

When David left for the men’s room, I pulled a package out of my enormous black handbag and slid it across the table to Mark.  The package was an “Otter Pup” coloring book from the Monterey Aquarium, but inside were original childhood photos of Mark’s Dad, who also happened to be my Uncle Eddie, my mother’s little brother,  deceased now for many years.

The three of us put in some effort perusing the photos. Wondering about the people and circumstances in old photos, looking for clues to past lives – I am always on the scent of these hunts. Here was Uncle Eddie in the backyard of our grandmother’s house, cleaning a fish, while a curious cat looked on.  In a second photo young Eddie was angelic, dressed in a white  first Communion suit with short pants, accompanied by an older boy. They are standing in a church narthex. We could identify neither the  older boy nor the church. Yet a third photo showed young Eddie aboard a white sleigh, right beside Santa Claus, in some unknown department store. The last picture showed Uncle Eddie as a handsome young man in a letter sweater, posing with a pipe. A caption underneath, we think written by one of our spinster great aunts, read “The Pipe.”

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Here is one I found after I got home. I believe that to be my mother on the left.

Knowing we would not be able to answer all the questions raised by the photos, as there is no one left alive who knows the answers, we left the Chez Papa for some more contemporary surveillance. We  settled ourselves down the street on the patio of Farley’s to drink some coffee. Noir, of course. Though ostensibly we were deep in conversation about Southern mores, we all had our eye on the joint across the street.

Don't tell me there's no story here.

Don’t tell me there’s no story here.

Thankfully by now we had some reinforcement, in the form of Mark and David’s elderly black and white terrier Windsor. Windsor is blind, but he looked as best  he could, while scouting the area for edible clues.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he's security conscious.

Windsor evades having his picture taken from the front; he’s security conscious.

Maybe we saw suspicious activity across the street. Maybe we didn’t. Maybe the five year old girl and her mother sitting on the patio were plants, sent to charm us into giving up our secrets. That kind of gray area is  all in a day’s sleuthing. But one thing was certain: we three had to split up, in case we were made.

To throw watchers off the track we posed for some touristy type pictures. Meaning we were noisy and conspicuous. IMG_2884Then as if by magic, three adults and a blind dog disappeared inside a black Smart car and disappeared up the hill. David, displaying the spy craft for which he is well known, dropped me off by the Mission Street bridge, right beside the Portrero Hill Community Garden.

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

Source: sanfranciscodays.com

We’re professionals, so I didn’t ask their destination, but as an out of towner I did have to consult with them on one thing. Where could I get my nails done? Mark suggested a place in the Castro called the Hand Job, but also some other options. I took in his suggestions noncommittally, not recording them on paper.  The less Mark  and David  knew of my comings and goings, the better.DSC_0480

After crossing the Mission Street Bridge I found the streets to be curiously quiet for some blocks. But I kept my eyes open, crossing streets frequently, but not stopping except when I needed to examine native plants, which are another focus of my ongoing detective work.  Eventually I came upon what I considered to be the likely nerve center of the neighborhood- a yarn store, Imaginknit.

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business...or does it?

This photo proves I am just an old lady minding her own business…or does it?

Maybe because I was hot and tired, I decided to just play it straight in there and not try any funny business. Was I ever glad of that decision when out of nowhere bounced what to my unpracticed eye seemed to be a brown and white miniature greyhound. Knowing the place was well policed, I simply chose a pattern, yarn and needle, and after purchasing same I killed a little time winding my yarn. Everything seemed on the up  and up there. The shop was chock full of  helpful salesladies, delicious yarns and knitted samples. That dog runs a tight ship.

Revitalized by my yarn purchase I ventured back onto Mission Street. Street traffic picked up around Dolores Park. I put away my camera after the passing the park so as not to arouse suspicion.

Dolores Park, under construction.

Dolores Park, under construction.

In a few short minutes I was in the Castro, looking for a nail salon. For safety’s sake, and also because I couldn’t find it, I did not go to the Hand Job Nail Salon, instead choosing the one right beside the Castro theater. The manager was kind enough to take me as a walk in, or else he was afraid to say no to me.  For a time my detecting efforts were slowed, as I could  only guess at what the nail ladies were  saying amongst  themselves. They seemed  concerned about the blisters I had worn on my toes from the up and down terrain of my reconaissance that day. Me, I was used to it. It’s the cost of business in this crazy trade.

Finally I was released from the salon, with newly bronzed nails and toes. No one who had seen me before could now recognize me as the same woman who had crawled in with overgrown cuticles just one hour before. I sat at one of the round tables at the top of Castro to ponder my next move.DSC_0481

DSC_0483Having made my thorough way from Portrero Hill to the Castro, my mind turned to plans for the evening. Truth was, there was a man interested in my company for the evening, and I was considering his offer. No, it wouldn’t be  as peaceful as grabbing a couple of cold brewskis with a meat and three at Mae’s Diner, but the plus side was I wouldn’t have to pay for my grub. I was torn, but then I looked down and found the best clue of the day. If it’d been a snake it would have bit me.IMG_2898

Well then. I decided if that man wanted my company, he would come to me. So I texted him,” Found a place at Albion and Mission. Meet me there.” I ducked in the place and sat myself at the bar. I had time for a Pilsner and a little eavesdropping before my companion arrived, if he arrived. Sure enough, before I could say “You  must have thirteen tattoos and body piercings,” to the hostess, the man in question arrived.

Fine. He could pay for the beer I’d already had. We decided the place was as good as any to eat dinner, as there was already a long line to get in where we were. We had each had a long day, his, lecturing  in a cold conference room and mine out pounding the pavement in the  golden sun, and we were each glad to sit down and relax. My companion knew better than to even ask about my classified work.

As the evening wore on I felt myself lose a little of my hard boiled edge. In the end I let the man  guide me back through the crowded street with the pupusa places and bars, back to the Bart Station. Turned out we were each going back out to the airport area, so I let him accompany me. As the Bart train pulled away from the station, I saw our reflection in the window. We looked just like an old married couple on the way back to their hotel. A perfect cover.

 

 

 

The Good Life

I’m afraid to even say this out loud, because I don’t want to jinx anything, but here goes. The last four weekends of my life have been as smooth as a bowl of fresh whipped cream. I started to call this post “Whipped cream weekends,” but realized that the title could have been misleading. My meaning of a whipped cream weekend would of course be one in  which every activity seems to be topped off with that extra sweetness, that light fluffy accompaniment that makes each dessert that much more sublime.

The situation called for whipped cream.

The situation called for whipped cream.

Why, and how has this happened, when I ought to be still worn out from traveling, allergies, and work? I cannot say for sure. But here is what I  would like to believe.

I would like to believe that because I have been nicer to my self lately, that my self is being nicer to me. I had a big reset a few weeks ago, and the time frame fits: when I decided to stop pushing myself to take care of outside matters and to allow myself to concentrate on some inside matters, my life became easier and sweeter.

Could the key  to increased energy, creativity, and peace have been this simple all along? I  can’t say because I’ve never been in this particular spot in life before, but I do strongly believe in the benefits of a developed interior life.

What I have noticed is that with more balance between the mindful and magpie parts of me I have  done many, many things while feeling relaxed and in the moment. In the past I have also done many, many things, but depending upon the circumstances there were always some unwanted feelings: dread, resentment, defeat, regret, ambivalence, because usually I had taken on too much. I would always follow through with whatever was going on, but there would be loud sighs, followed by naps and crankiness.

It was not that I had no fun. Hey. I’m a fun person. But I see now that by not organizing my own inner home team, I was using my energy struggling with myself.

Here is a  partial recap of the last few weekends, not that the actual activities matter.  Each weekend had aspects which in the past would have been triggers to angst or run-around-like a chicken – with your head- cut off- syndrome. But instead  each held felt  expansive, and unhurried.  Is this how other people have been living all along?

Weekend One: Youngest son’s graduation, oldest son in town for the occasion. Beautiful weather and beautiful times.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

I had time to make a flower arrangement.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Mommy hugs the graduate.

Weekend Two: Sit down dinner party for 17, decided upon on a Tuesday and executed on Saturday night. Made the main dish, salad, salad dressing and six loaves of bread.

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Before the company

Bread in the oven.

Bread in the oven.

Weekend Three: Memorial Day Weekend: Spent one day working on editing my little book, and another ( after the book sale)  on spreading many bags of mulch in my back yard while my husband power washed everything in sight.  Followed by a relaxing float in the pool.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

I had plenty of time to commune with my flower friends.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

And enjoy the afternoon sun on the magnolias.

DSC_1419Weekend Four: Had a great time at a rained out beer garden, and a leisurely breakfast on a patio the next morning. Then went to a farmer’s market, and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing my “booty” for dinner that night. Sunday after an early Father’s Day brunch, I went for a scrumptious foot massage.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scales from my own yard, seared scallops.

Stir fried bok choy, green beans, with garlic scapes from my own yard, seared scallops.

I don’t suppose there is much deep meaning to this post except that I may be on the right track to balance, at least for me. My way is not unique. It includes lots and lots of noticing, journaling, contemplation, and taking care of me first. I’m just so grateful to have stumbled upon a deep well of abundance.  I feel as rich as a bowl of whipped cream right now. Right now. Right. Now.

 

Magpie Meditation: Reset

I’ve been in an unmindful hurry in the last few months. rushing to be creative, introspective, helpful, attentive, and healthy.  With the best of intentions I  spread myself too thin. In hindsight I see how, in increments, I knocked myself right out of balance.

I work three days a week.  On those days it is my job to be there for people who are in difficult life situations. I provide a safe, accepting environment in which people can examine their thoughts ad feelings and make the changes they want  to make in their lives. It is an unbelievably  rewarding career. I have learned more from those who have walked through my office door than I could ever express in words.

On the four days I do not work one might think I  had   plenty of time  to break out of professional mode, put on my sweats and….read, write, cook, daydream, garden, blog, ….an organic, rejuvenating flow of energy.  On paper it works nicely. In reality, on my days off I still have to answer work calls, schedule doctor’s appointments, and wait for the cable man.  On some days off I may still be  so tired from the three long days I have  worked that it is a struggle to be as creative as  I would like to be.

Shouldn't you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

Shouldn’t you be knitting right now? At the same time that you are painting, writing and relaxing?

I was juggling it all flexibly enough until  late October 2013 when  I impulsively signed up for  my first NaNoWriMo challenge.  All of November I hunted and I pecked and I came up with the required number of words. I loved, loved, loved, participating in NaNoWriMo. And what do I have now? I have a teeny tiny little novel that needs big editing. I’m convinced that my characters deserve to be brought to life in print, where they will be loved and cherished by all.  With all the pride of a new mother, I think my baby book is  uncommonly beautiful.

Now, on my “off” days I am  trying to teach myself what we do after we write a draft of a novel. Do I know what I am doing? Not at all.  Do I have a writing group? Not at all. I spend my time reading books about writing books, searching on the internet for what to do with a book manuscript, and on the actual editing of the book. Also, for a person with the technical skills of the main character in The Gods Must Be Crazy, being gifted with a new computer for Christmas proved a mixed blessing. I can’t tell you what  all the problems have been because it will cause flashbacks of my having talked to every single Apple support employee, except to say that I did not have Pages ’09, and therefore  for a time could not open up my poor little book on the new laptop. Sigh.

On a more serious note, in  the middle of the frenetic NaNoWriMo month,  I learned that a very close friend, not a blogger, has  a life threatening illness. I spoke with her on a Tuesday while  she was getting ready for work. By Saturday of that same week, after an emergency room visit for severe pain, she had a diagnosis and was meeting with her treatment team. While she wasn’t looking, she left her old life and started a new one. The gods really MUST be crazy.

Even now when I say to myself that she is sick, part of me says, “No she’s not.” But she is. For now she is doing well, but still has a hard uncertain road ahead. Though her illness is not my story, my role as her friend has changed. I need to gather strength in order to be a person who to whom she can  say anything, especially those things she cannot say elsewhere. I need to pay attention in order to be a person who steps in when needed, and out when not. I need to be a person who does not always treat my friend as though she is a sick person.    I need to be honest with myself in order to  accept my powerlessness to change the progression or outcome of her illness.  I am honored to assume these roles, but of necessity I have had to learn them on the fly.

The realities of the last few months  left me feeling frantic on days when I was not working, longing to be alone, and to be needed by no one SO I COULD  GET SOME WORK DONE!!!!  Yet when  alone, I did not experience the peace I and contentment I sought. Fear that I would run out of time on this earth, that I would never be able  to learn and do all I want caused me to try to wring every productive moment out of every day. When was I going to get around to editing my book? Knitting? Working on my new scrapbook? What about that online photography class I needed so sorely? When would I research my trip to Paris? What about my blog post?   I began to feel overwhelmed with that dread that says “You should be _________ right now.”

  I do know better than to try to be a “human doing”. Because of my vulnerability  I must have deluded myself into thinking that because I enjoy learning, making, and doing, that it would be appropriate to do them all at a breakneck pace without savoring the individual moments.  I worked myself into ignoring the part where I was going ninety miles an hour. I’ve been here before.  But apparently  learning to just be is one of those life lessons  I am destined  to learn over and over again.

The funny thing is how I came to notice all of this. I knew I felt  unsettled, not right.  Good  detective work on my part. But guess what my solution was? I TRIED TO ADD SOMETHING ELSE TO MY SCHEDULE WITHOUT ASKING ME!!!!!!! That’s right folks; I decided that just a few minutes of scheduled meditation, along with study of same, would bring me back to a peaceful place. Part of the absurdity of this is that I purely cannot stand for my time to be  taken up, even if it is taken up by me. I want to do what I want to do WHEN I want to do it.

So when I tried to implement my ill conceived  plan, I heard the most distinct voice inside myself saying,”NO. NO. NO. This is the problem. YOU are the problem.” At least that time, if not for the preceding weeks, I did listen. And I knew I had to start back at the beginning. For me, that means with a notebook and pen. That means every day, not just some days. That means asking me what I want to do, and listening to the answer. It means that once I check in with myself, I have accomplished the most important task of the day. Whatever I do afterwards I will do  more mindfully by default. That’s what matters.

Where the rubber meets the road. Source: caps.umich.edy

Where the rubber meets the road.
Source: caps.umich.edy

I am a few days into my reset now. Once I attend to myself through my journal I find I am quite ready and willing to meditate. Though everyone’s experience is individual, I can report feeling less rushed and less anxious.  When I breathe I am aware of more  inner space. I am also aware of a deep weariness in my shoulders. What better way could my body tell me I need to let go?

I am still busy, but I am busy differently. Busy noticing. Busy being. Busy starting over and feeling more balanced.  I will never have time to do everything that interests me. I will never be able to control the passing of time.  But however I do spend my time, I want to feel alive and present in that moment, for it will never come again. It is comforting to know that if from time to time I veer off of the  course I  want to follow that I can simply reset.

What about you? Do you ever need a reset? And if so, what works for you?

Password to the Pavilion

I am writing on the day after Christmas, exhausted, but in a good way. Yes, I am tired because the last few days have been like riding on a rickety roller coaster while holding onto wrapped gifts for everyone in your family… oops? You forgot to wrap something? Then get OFF the ride until you wrap that thing, and wait in line to ride again. Go over your holiday schedule while waiting in line. Is that your phone alarm reminding you that right now you are due at Roller Coaster #4? Where your Uncle Barnabas has made reservations for your whole family? Best drop out of this line again. You’ll just have to come back at midnight, if you have time, for this ride. And you must ride it, because it is so much FUN. Just look at all those happy souls on the ride right now with their mouths frozen into grimaces as they whip around the curves, clutching those wrapped packages with a death grip. How can it only happen once a year?

Actually all of that was just in fun. I am exhausted  in a good way because I have spent the holidays doing just what I want to do and nothing else. In the Holiday Amusement Park of life I am seated in a secluded pavilion on a park bench, aware but undisturbed that so many others around me are overextending themselves. I am comfortable and at peace, surrounded by those who mean the most to me. Back here in the pavilion I can see the festive lights and hear the noises, but I am removed enough so that if a stressed out roller coaster rider lets go of a wrapped fruitcake while at the summit of the ride, it can’t hit me or mine in the head.

It's shiny out here, but out of the way f flying debri.

It’s shiny out here, but out of the way of flying debri.

I enjoy myself so much in my  holiday pavilion; I only wish I had known about it sooner. Come to think of it, many of those I have seen walking  among the pavilions are closer to my age. Perhaps the way out here cannot be seen  clearly until one reaches a certain age. We who have found our way to the pavilions are at peace because we decide how much hustle and bustle we want. Others do not dictate it for us. Sometimes we may decide to dash briefly into the melee and race one  other past the midway rides and back to our sanctuary. When we return, out of breath and laughing, we relish the fun we had.

Things don't  get over the top unless we say so.

Things don’t get over the top unless we say so.

When you are at the Holiday Amusement Park, have you noticed the signs that point to the outer pavilions, where folks may be less active, yet at the same time more present? If you have not seen them I do hope that you will look. You won’t look until you are ready, but just in case, I will pass on a little hint. There are many signs posted at the park. You’ve seen them: “Frenetic  Friends and Family Roller Coaster”, “Codependent Merry Go Round”, “Big Box Shopping Dodge’em Cars “, “Yes You Will Attend This Party  Scrambler”, the “Yes You Will Buy Me This Hurricane” , and the like.

If you want to see the sign for the Peaceful Pavilions, you must pause in front of each preceding sign, read it, and say out loud, in a firm voice, the word “No.” Just that one word. But you must say it each time. Do not despair if it takes you several years to say no to each sign; no one ever said they weren’t tricky little devils. But remember that no matter how hard it may seem to say no, that eventually saying yes is going to become even harder than you can imagine.

But only if you want to.

Don’t say yes unless you want to.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

Quality time at the peaceful pavilion.

I hope you will join me at the pavilion one of these years. I’ve met so many nice people out here. At first we are incredulous that we found the place, and that  enjoying the holiday season can be just as easy as saying “No.” Then, very quickly, we get involved with what we have always wanted to be able to say “yes” to: relaxed days and nights, making memories with friends old and new, helping those less fortunate than ourselves, even thinking about the new year to come. Until we meet in the wooded area beyond the midway rides, happy holidays from me and mine in the peaceful pavilion. We’ll keep the lights on for you!DSC_0351

The Book Of Life

My book club had its annual holiday brunch this Sunday. After feasting  merrily we got down to the business of choosing the first six  books to read in 2014. We wrote down the titles of books we might potentially read, and one or two people looked up each book and read us a synopsis. I sat among readers of all kinds: serious literary fiction readers, readers who hate romance, readers of “beach books”, and readers who will not even try a book that is more than 300 pages long.

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Source:aonetwork.com

I listened to the comments of these women after each synopsis had been read. Some books were not chosen because of length. Less complicated  books were postponed until summer when apparently lighter fare is required. One author was turned down flat because his work was judged too inaccessible. None of these opinions disturbed me; after all, we must have some method of choosing what to read.

Another  type of comment, however, did stick with me. It too is one that is probably shared around the world at book clubs:  ‘”Oooh. That sounds boring. Nothing much happens.” “Yeah, let’s don’t read that one.” Because  my tastes in reading are not representative of the reading group to which I belong, I remained silent as I  often I am  in these discussions.

But I had things I wanted to say. Thankfully I can say those things right here in this blog. First I wanted to say that if the blurb of a book does not mention much action, then maybe the actions that take place are interior ones.  Books about characters’ inner lives are the books that I love more than any others on earth. I can think of many authors whose work centers on the meandering of the characters’ minds. Henry James, Richard Ford, John Banville, James Joyce, Ian McEwan are  but a few who come to mind.

Though I enjoy a clever  plot, I am more interested in the movement of the characters from within. How does the character struggle? How does he change? What does he grieve?  What must he let go of, or what will he not let go of despite the consequences? Does he feel his life is worthwhile, and how so? Naturally the characters’ quandaries  bring me to ask the same existential questions of myself, because as humans we share the same basic conditions, whether we are alive in 2013 or 1813.

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My sister was at the book club because she was in town this weekend. Later that day we discussed the importance of the interior life. We decided that an outwardly uneventful life is not by definition one of quiet desperation. In fact, most of us live lives in which nothing all that dramatic happens. Rather, we experience a series of small events which, while  perhaps not meaningful to others, are the stuff of untold drama for us as individuals, and in the end they make up our lives.

I also did not mention to the book club that I might have been a little sensitive on that day to the plight of the person with the uneventful life. I belong to a facebook group for those who graduated from my high school during the 1970s. The group/page was spearheaded by a woman I knew only to speak to in high school.   She was one of those people I walked past without a second thought. I don’t know who her friends were; in my teenaged hubris I was focused mostly on which boys boys thought I was how hot in whatever ensemble  I wore that day.

But when she invited me to the page I did remember her. I’ll call her Cindy. Cindy posted frequently with news of our classmates’ joys, trials, and tribulations. I gathered from her posts that she was single and worked in a hospital setting. Occasionally she would post something of a spiritual nature or request prayers for classmates with health challenges.  She mentioned that her parents were deceased and that she lived with her brother. I came to expect her regular posts about studying for a test, ( She seemed to also be a student.) having to work late or watching a football game. She was not one of those TMI sharers, just friendly and concerned for her classmates.

Right before Thanksgiving I saw a post from the page co- administrator that she could not believe Cindy was dead. WHAT????? I asked, along with several other classmates. Over the next few days some details emerged. Yes, Cindy was dead. Her brother, who is mentally challenged, found that she had fallen and passed out in the bathroom of the apartment where they  lived.  It is not known which event occurred first, or why, but she died.

Cindy’s brother’s church came to his aid. There were not funds for a burial, so the church had her remains cremated. Cindy’s life ended with no funeral or memorial service and no obituary. Cindy’s classmates are now in the process of finding out whether there is a fund for her brother’s care  to which we might contribute in her name. There has been talk among the classmates of trying to arrange a memorial service for her.

Though I do not expect a book to be written about Cindy’s life, if it were written I would be eager to  read it. What were the hopes and dreams of this woman who buried  both her parents, supported her brother, and died so young?  How did she find meaning in her everyday life? Was her life all that she had once hoped it would be?  What did administering  the facebook page mean to this woman who had so few resources that we could see? Or did she have a wealth of inner awareness and peace which sustained her and helped enrich her short life?

We will never know the answers to these questions.   Maybe Cindy was just a woman who lived and died like the rest of us. I guess nothing much ever happened to her. Or did it? Fiction at its best can only imitate life.

It's the small things that make up a life.

It’s the small things that make up a life.

Trading Blue for Yellow

A couple of Sundays ago I woke up feeling a little blue.  My problems were the usual stuff of those who have no real problems. I had now been living with my belongings dispersed through the house as if by a maniac for many weeks. Since my bedroom floor was now rough concrete, I was stepping in little grains of cement every time I went in my bathroom. Between the workmen tramping in and out and having our extant bedroom furniture  placed willy nilly in other rooms, trying to clean or organize was out of the question. I felt cheated because I had slept late and now my husband thought it was too late to ride bikes. Also, I had determined that only about five people were reading my blog. That was the real rub.

I contemplated this last opinion while I sat outside with my coffee. There was no doubt that I was feeling sorry for myself, and it was up to me to change the situation. Had I written what I wanted? Yes. Had I been satisfied with it? Yes. If a blogger writes a post in the forest, and the animals can’t read, is it a real blog post? I didn’t know, but I did know this mood was not going to fly. What could I do, I mused, to take care of myself right now and avoid the steaming morass of self pity that was lurking just over my left shoulder?

I knew! I knew! I was going to take my own self on an adventure! Quickly, before my brain could give me instructions otherwise, I threw on some bicycling clothes and smeared  sunscreen on my face. “You’re going all by yourself to Shelby Farms?” inquired my husband as he checked my bicycle tires. “Yep,” I replied, sliding my cell phone into my sports bra. “Maybe it would be easier to leave the phone at home,” he suggested. “Nope,” I replied.

I knew why he’d  said that. A few years ago while we were riding together I had tried to fish my phone out of my bra while riding. I wasn’t having any trouble until he came up behind me offering suggestions while I tried to answer the phone and stop the bike at the same time. Thanks to his “help” I pulled on only one brake, causing me to be thrown over the handlebars and onto the pavement, watching my cell phone clatter down the street.

Today I wasn’t going to get caught up into his fears that I would again answer the phone while biking. His fears were going to have to be his own problem. This bike ride was going to  be all about me, Baby.

In five minutes I was pedaling down  my driveway, free as I had felt on a Saturday morning in second grade after I had dusted the piano and been allowed outside to play. As a child  I  regularly biked for hours around our neighborhood. It was the same now except I had a helmet and could go as far as I wanted. How could it be that I rode my bike so seldom? Well, for one thing it is often hotter than Hades where I live, I reminded myself,  making it necessary that bike riders, along with walkers, runners, and gardeners , start their activities at dawn or not at all. Today, however, the temperature was tolerable and the humidity low.

My general destination was Shelby Farms, a 4500 urban park close to our home. In recent years a conservancy has made major improvements in the park including  turning an  unused railroad track into a Greenline to help connect citizens to the pleasures within. The part that will extend to my neighborhood is not yet built, so, alone with my thoughts , I took backroads for about 6 miles until I crossed into the park.

The park is split by a major thoroughfare. I rode into the south side which contains, among other things, a farmer’s market and an RV park. I rode beside the RV park, wondering what it would be like to have one, and to pull up to a campsite in the middle of the city to spend the night. After reading a mystery series in which the heroine drove an RV, I mentioned it would be fun for me to tool around in  one. This idea was just too much for the man who is afraid for me to take my phone on a bike ride. He sputtered about how hard it would be for me to maneuver, how I lack depth perception ( which is true) and the costs of gas. Mostly I think he was afraid he would come home and find an RV in our driveway. What does he think I am, I asked myself as I cleared the RV area. Impulsive?

Beyond the Rv area I rode on some narrow and some wide trails past the solar farm area and an enormous mulch making facility before cutting up closer to the road. I was close to my specific destination: the sunflowers.DSC_0714

Every year  the park plants a large field of tall sunflowers  which can be seen from the major thoroughfare. Countless children are taken there by their parents to pose for pictures among the flowers.  Engagement photos are taken there as well. Maybe some people even cut some  flowers to take home. I had always wanted to visit the sunflowers during their brief season, but until today I never had.DSC_0724

I dismounted and took out my camera. Rows and rows of sunflowers stood before me, just like a corn maze. I found an opening  and tromped in, taking care not to get too close to some families nearby who were photographing their children. As I admired all the yellow and  gold loveliness, I overheard parents admonishing their children to stop crying and smile for the camera. A Labrador Retriever was being urged to stand beside a recalcitrant child.DSC_0727

DSC_0716Nevertheless, it was a peaceful place. I could hear but not really see the traffic. And within the rows was a a magical feast of golds, yellows and greens. The sky was somewhat overcast, but the colors shimmered for me. Deep within the rows, unseen by any human eye, I stood perfectly still. All around me the bees buzzed and lit on flowers, while butterflies chased  one another from bloom to bloom.DSC_0744 DSC_0734 DSC_0739Everywhere I looked a sea of sunflowers faced the sun. DSC_0730Even the backs of their necks were beautiful to me.

How long did I stay? I stayed until I decided to leave. Somehow the warmth and simplicity of the sunflowers restored my equilibrium.  As I eventually pedaled away, I heard myself say to me, “You may have just five readers, but they’re QUALITY readers!” That made me laugh out loud. Yes, I was out on an adventure that day, and I wasn’t going by the specifications of others. I would follow the sun in my own way.