things to love in january

Image-1January is the warrior month,” writes Vivian Swift in her gorgeous hand-lettered book When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put. She continues, “It takes a warrior to soldier through these cold, dark, harsh January days.”

Indeed it does, especially for me this year. Maybe for you, too?

Well, even a peaceful warrior needs to be well armed. Here, a quick round up of my own best defenses.

Knowing I’d be mostly homebound and recuperating from surgery in January, hobbling around on crutches rather than trekking through the woods on my snowshoes, I decided to gird myself for the warrior month by creating a bit of structure for my days. The healing journey requires patience, but it’s also turned out to be an opportunity to enjoy some special treats for both body and soul.

Of course, you may simply be recuperating from the demands of life itself. Reason enough, certainly, to treat yourself! So do come along, and enjoy these simple pleasures with me. [continue…]

Happy Mother’s Day & a letter to my mom

IMG_4087Every year, I tell my sons what I’d like for Mother’s Day: a letter. Something, anything, on paper, that I can keep close at hand for a while, re-read  till I’ve memorized each line, and then tuck away in a drawer to save and read again. For me, words written from the heart are more precious than anything that could be bought from a store.  I don’t always get my wish, nor do I always take the time to write to my own mother. (Yes, it really is so much easier to buy a card, choose some flowers, indulge in a nice dinner out.)

This year, Jack is at home and we’ll spend the entire day together.  With Steve and Henry both on a trip, Jack offered to join me in my annual  spring “cleanse” and we’ve been partners all week in this challenging endeavor, juicing and eating raw fruits and veggies and practicing yoga.  His presence, and his willingness to try — wholeheartedly! — what he calls “the mom lifestyle” for a week has been a gift in itself.  (In a few minutes, we’ll have our Mother’s Day breakfast together: a green smoothie with kale and sunflower seeds. And then we’ll head off to yoga class — my idea of a very happy Mother’s Day indeed.)

I used to mourn the end of my sons’ childhoods, especially on Mother’s Day, nostalgic for the years of breakfast in bed, Crayola cards, my sons’ eager assistance as we planted the flowers my husband had helped them pick out at the nursery. But  I’ve finally made my peace with what is now long over.  Last weekend we watched Henry’s first class of jazz students perform at a May Day celebration.  It was a full-circle moment.  Nine years ago, he was the fourteen-year-old freshman trying out his jazz chops at the dessert cafe on May Day, and now he’s returned to his old high school to teach jazz himself.  My heart swelled, my eyes brimmed, just as they always did at every school event.    “Now” may be the only time there is, but “now,”  these days, comes with an even deeper appreciation for time passing, the moments layered with memories and associations and gratitude.  As I grow older, “now” becomes ever richer, deeper, more precious. [continue…]

Still hard, and more beautiful than ever

sunrise aug 22JPG

Iwas outside at dawn this morning, as I’ve been most days this summer. Standing in the wet grass, watching the molten, majestic sun slide from behind the mountain into a rose-colored sky, two thoughts occurred to me at exactly the same time: Life is still hard. And it’s more beautiful than ever.

The hard things are easy to list. They’ve been running on an endless loop in my head through every sleepless night this week: An ongoing conversation with my younger son that keeps ending badly. The helplessness of not knowing how to make things better. Worries about the other son as he wraps up a summer job he’s loved and embarks on a new life chapter. A slightly frayed, unraveling edge in my marriage — and not knowing how to mend that, either. The piles of things around the house that I should have cleared away by now and the to-do list that doesn’t ever seem to get any smaller. The familiar, nagging sense that I’m spread too thin, letting too many people down, not doing enough or being enough or giving enough.

Wakefulness takes its own toll, as if exhaustion has peeled off a protective layer, leaving me a little more raw and vulnerable than usual. I am less resilient and resourceful; more prone to sudden, silly tears, frustration, anxiety. I do an interview over the phone, make a birthday dinner for my dad, hand-write a stack of letters, pay the bills, read a bound galley that needs a blurb, call to congratulate a friend who’s just finished writing her book, sort the laundry, sweep the floor. I try again with my son. Take my husband’s hand. Pick flowers for the table and bake scones from scratch. Take a deep breath, and then another. Take a run. Smile at a stranger on the street. These are all good things to do. And yet. My mind feels not quite all here. I’m tired. And it’s still hard.

And beautiful.

[continue…]

Practice

The theme of my life this winter can be summed up in a word: practice. Two-thirds of the way through a memoir, with another four chapters to go and a deadline less than two months away, I have made a commitment to writing practice.

But I am a slow writer, never certain of the way forward, and so I have no choice but to practice patience.

Waiting for words to come, trusting that if I stay here long enough, the next sentence will find its way home to me, requires a certain kind of faith. Faith in mystery and faith in the process — and so I practice faith, too. Faith, it turns out, takes quite a lot of practice.

Yoga practice makes my writing practice possible; in order to sit for hours on end, I must first get up and really move.

Breathing practice fuels the yoga practice; without the union of breath and movement, yoga is just exercise, and I need a little more sustenance from my practice these days than a few leg lifts would provide.

Meditation practice guides me back into my writing, for before I can write so much as a line, I must listen. And in order to listen, I must practice stillness.

Stillness is a challenge, possible only when I practice discipline, for stillness is so not my nature. Discipline practice returns me to my yoga mat day after day, and then it hustles me right back upstairs, to my spot against the bedpillows and my laptop balanced on my knees, and the words on the page, and the view out the window.

I look at the dark curve of mountains against the winter sky, hear the whoosh of wind curling around the corner of the house, the ticking clock, the soft, steady breath of my dog asleep on the rug, and I practice gratitude, for really, what could be better than this – this life, this moment, this practice of pausing and noticing and saying “thank you”?

I used to think of my life in terms of the various roles and responsibilities that made me me: there was motherhood, house work and editing work and writing work, marriage, exercise, spirituality, friendship. Lots of expectations to juggle and jobs to tackle and experiences to either embrace or endure or reject. And never, ever, enough time to fit it all in or get it all done.

Writing was always the first thing to go. How could I sit alone in a room typing words on a screen when there were so many more “important” things I should be doing instead?

But with only a slight shift in imagination, everything has changed. I’ve come to see my life for what it is — not some elaborate story I’ve told myself a thousand times, but simply this: an opportunity to practice.

And suddenly, there is plenty of room and all the time in the world for me to do the only thing I need to do — keep practicing.

A little background: I wrote this post quickly, at the invitation of memoirist and writing teacher extraordinare Marion Roach, who is guest-editing this week over at SheWrites, a terrific site that empowers and informs women writers. (You can read her brilliant “Memoir Manifesto,” in which this little piece is included, here.) When I read Marion’s email, asking if I wanted to contribute something, my first impulse was to say, “Thanks, but no, I’ve got way too much on my plate already.” I was actually about to type just that into my “reply” box, when this started to come out instead. I think it is the first time I’ve ever written anything without thinking about it first. The first time words have ever “just come” to me. (I hear this happens quite often for OTHER writers, but not to me, not ever.) And yet, surprise, there it was. An answer. An affirmative answer rather than the “thanks but no thanks” I was intending to write. And this, I guess, is the benefit of practice. Do anything long enough, regularly enough, and eventually it starts to do you. Even writing practice.

A word about “Unimaginable,” last week’s post: Your comments made me cry. They made my heart overflow with gratitude. They reaffirmed everything I already believe in and cherish about the connections between women, between writers and readers, between friends who have never met. I wanted to answer every single one personally — but I also realized that I couldn’t; all I can do, for now, anyway, is keep writing and hope that you understand. I read every one, though, and I particularly loved the way conversations even sprung up between you, readers reaching out and finding one another right here, in this space. That is nothing less than a dream come true. Thank you.

And finally, in answer to some questions I got about about the Wholeheartedness Playlist widget: If you receive this blog as an email, you won’t see the widget. It’s on the website. Just click on the title in your email, and it’ll take you to my website, where the playlist can be found on the bottom left sidebar. (It’s also a bit easier on the eyes to read the post on the website!) Many thanks, and a Happy Wholehearted Valentines Day to all!

Slow Journey

I’ve spent the last three weeks in one place doing one thing. And, although I will leave my mother’s house two days from now with a stack of manuscript pages, I will also leave with a great deal more knowledge about how I get in my own way.

There are people, many of them dear friends of mine, who can’t wait to sit down alone and shape their thoughts and feelings into sentences and paragraphs. I so wish I were one of them. There are some who have learned to trust their creative process, others who entertain a muse, some who simply feel most alive when they are creating. I am not any of these people, either.

For me, writing is a slow, halting journey from experience to thought to written word. It is a wonder I do it at all, given how inefficiently I travel, and how adept I am at coming up with countless more “productive” ways to spend my time. Show me a sink full of dirty dishes to address, or a few emails to answer, or an 8 a.m. yoga class, and all my mental synapses go into flight and alight mode. My house is never cleaner than when I have a deadline, my yoga practice never stronger than when I’m in the middle of a writing project. Here in Florida, in my mom’s back bedroom, flight is not an option. I came all the way down here to sit in a chair and fight my own little battle with myself.

Last week my friend, the extraordinary (and extraordinarily prolific) author Beth Kephart wrote this about the craft of memoir: “We are speaking about how we shape what we have lived, what we have seen. About how we honor what we love and defend what we believe in. Makers of memoir dwell with ideas and language, with themselves. They counter complexity with clarity. They locate a story inside the contradictions of their lives—the false starts and the presumed victories, the epiphanies that rub themselves raw nearly as soon as they are stated.”

Dwelling with myself. That really is my challenge. It is so much easier, so much more tempting, to turn away, to get busy doing something else, to skim along on the surface of my life instead of stopping, sitting still, going inside, and going deep. To write, or to read, about the inner life is to believe that what we think and how we feel matters. To be a friend of memoir is to stake a claim for the significance of the examined life. It is to say that our inner narratives are as important as the activities and achievements, the successes and failures, that fill our days. It is to say that locating the story within the contradictions of our lives is a worthy pursuit.

“We read,” wrote C. S. Lewis. “to remember that we are not alone.” It is also why we write. To remember that we have much to learn from our most difficult conversations with ourselves and with each other. And that in sharing the truth of who we are and how we struggle, we remind another struggling someone that they do not journey alone.

Thanks to all of you who contributed suggestions to the “Wholeheartedness” playlist. Next week my in-house tech support son, Henry, will be home. Together, we’ll compile the list and post it here. Till then, feel free to add your favorite songs. (I’ve been listening to the ones I didn’t know and I have to say, I think we’re on to something: it’s a great list of heart-opening, uplifting music!)