in and out of time

I’ve been dreaming lately of a house where I used to live. Over and over, night after night, this house makes its way into my imagination.

Sometimes dreams seem like nothing more than leftover, jumbled images and scenes from my recent days, but when they come to me repeatedly, I cannot help but pay attention.

I never go inside of this house in the dream; I only see it from the exterior view. Once I stood in its kitchen with a crowd of people and looked out the windows into what was the backyard. But every other time – and this has been night after night for weeks now – I only see it from the outside. Something is always altered about it. The newest owners have put in a swimming pool, or reshaped the driveway, or built an addition. Last night I was perched farther away from it not even realizing I was there but glanced over to see that there it was again, this time with little yellow lights strung up all around the porch. One wild night, I rode a roller coaster through the thick woods and hills all around it. Another night, I waved to the neighbors from the yard. And in every one of these dreams, I meet it with no sadness or loss or panic or longing. Just everyday observation — sometimes fascination, and always curiosity. Familiar and unfamiliar, too.

I moved in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2013, and 2015. That 6 year stretch in the middle was spent in that house.

It was old(er) and drafty, and when we bought it, the carpet was terrible, and every wall seemed covered in patterned wallpaper from 1988. We spent the first night sleeping on a mattress on the floor and the following few years improving it bit by bit. We eventually bought furniture to fill every room and landscaped the yard which began as a massive muddy slope and ended as a shaded grassy hill. I brought two babies home there. Nothing matched, and none of our appliances were new until the dishwasher broke and we had to get another one. It was nothing special. But somehow everyone who ever crossed the threshold of that old house loved it and commented that it felt like home. In the end, they maybe loved it more than I did because I grew lonely in the old house on the hill with no nearby neighbors, and we grew tired of the constant need to fix and repair.

Life was so simple there though. In hindsight, naively so. Like Eve before she bit the apple and understood everything. It feels like a hundred lifetimes ago.

I hadn’t thought about this house at all in my years since. Until now that it revisits me night after night, dream after dream, in every way and angle you can imagine. Always somehow altered from what it was before but familiar enough that it’s recognizable to me.

I’ve been browsing dream dictionaries, reading Thomas Moore’s ideas, and thinking thinking, thinking. Turning it all over again and holding it up to the light. I’m not sure dreams have one perfect meaning and literal interpretation we are supposed to read as though it is a code giving us answers. But I think the subconscious finds a way to talk to us through our dreams when the outside noise may be too loud for us to hear it otherwise.

I was reintroduced to TS Eliot’s Four Quartets recently when I was studying something else. That line nearly knocks me over — the way forward is the way back. We always end up where we started. But we always look a little different than when we began.

I’ve bitten the apple, obviously. Things are not naively simple anymore. Everything is different. But there’s another level of ease and simplicity and truth to my life now that I don’t think I have felt since I’ve left that place. Maybe not ever.

Here we are again. Sometimes my back door is a little drafty, and nothing matches, and my appliances are not new. My dishwasher broke this month, so I finally ordered a new one. And when we walk in the door, it feels like home. Like a place to jump off from.

Perhaps this is why, in those dreams, I am not haunted or sad or grieving or knocking on that door longing to go inside. Every night, I simply see it, altered somehow, and I take a look as best I can with a little curiosity and a healthy disbelief that this thing is really real. That the simple life is here again in another form.

Later in that poem, Elliot goes on to say “For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time, the distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight, … 
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all, but you are the music.”

I think my current season of simple truth was heard so deeply that I didn’t even hear it at all – until my dreams had to show me again and again. I hear it now. I’m hearing the music and seeing this moment in and out of time. The way forward is the way back. 

 

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wanting

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I ran across a meme the other day that said January was a tough year, but we made it. Amen and Amen. 45 days until spring. We can do this.

I’m typing this as I sit alongside a sleeping and feverish Norah. It’s been nothing short of a miracle that I’ve got a kindergartner who hasn’t really been noticeably sick all school year, so we were due for it. Kids around us have been dropping like flies to fevers and flu, so I guess it’s our turn now. I’m grateful it’s Saturday and I’ve got no classes to teach or meetings to rearrange, and we can just stay in until it passes. Or at least until Monday when I do the usual juggle to create a new schedule.

It’s hard to keep the line open to something greater and bigger when you are in the thick of daily tasks and interruptions like this. But somehow it magnifies the bigger things, too.  I think it’s Fitzgerald who has that famous line Things are sweeter when they are lost. And it is true.

You crave summer’s heat when you have the February doldrums. You crave wellness only when you are sick. I crave solitude most when I have a string of days without it. It’s always what we can’t have that we want most.

I know with certainty that the world works with a push-pull of opposites. Everything works this way. And it is such an ancient, unoriginal idea that I feel disingenuous even typing it here. But yet it’s hard to sink into. Maybe that’s the struggle of being human. But it is far worse in modern times, I think. Everything happens with such speed that we forget that the very best things in life are made even better because of times we didn’t have them.  This is true with big things and little things, too.

I heard a yoga teacher say recently that an acorn can become an oak tree, and an oak tree can become a piano. But an acorn cannot be transformed into the piano without whatever comes in between. It’s such a simple illustration, but it sort of unzipped my brain a bit, and I’m replaying it again and again in my head since I’ve heard it. We so often want to arrive somewhere and skip the middle. But what if I’m gaining the whole of what I need for my final destination right now?

I yearn for a lot of things big and small. I want warmth and sunshine. I want a house without the heavy interruption of sickness and feverish kids. I want a working dishwasher (waiting weeks on that delivery makes it sweeter for sure).

I want lasting purpose and drive and ambition without the ebbs and flows of life’s interruptions. I want finished projects held in my hands. I want security and sustained joy.

I used to be afraid to admit to what I want, but I think what we want says so much about us. And maybe the clarity that we find in the act of wanting itself is what gets us where we need to be.

 

on the daily

The kids are snoozing soundly, and I can hear their stuffy snores as I type this. I haven’t done this in forever – writing aimlessly just because I feel like it.

I’ve been listening to this incredible book of essays on my way to and from work lately. I laugh out loud and tear up and just generally get reminded everyday why I love words so much and why I love home so much, too.

I have a lot of thoughts tumbling and nowhere to put them. Because I’ve been spending my writing hours lately exploring things that have long passed, I tend to pay less attention to what is happening here and now – which has always been the aim of this space, to just record events as they happen and my feelings about them as those feelings pass through. I miss that. But there are only so many hours in the day, only so many stores of creative energy to use. As a result though, I tend to find myself surprised when an emotion sneaks up on me these days. I think writing is my mindfulness practice in ways I didn’t realize until my pace has slowed down with this journal.

One thing I’ve been pretty dedicated to lately is a daily yoga practice. I use the early morning hours to make this happen, and if you’d told me years ago that I’d be up at 5am rolling out my yoga mat while my kids slept – every single day – I wouldn’t have believed you. And I’m realistic enough to know that this is not a permanent thing that will happen for me 365 days a year forever after. But for now, it is floating me through the coldest and darkest days of the year which is something.

It ignites certain muscles, I’m finding. It’s an odd feeling — to be sore somewhere you didn’t realize you even had a muscle. How can I live in this body and be surprised at how it works like this? But it feels so good for me to turn that energy on as I begin my day. It somehow makes me feel like my spinning pieces are going somewhere, like there is a place here in the center pushing it all forward and welcoming it back home at the end of the day. It makes the rest of the world matter a little less.

I’ve practiced more intensely than this once or twice a week and not experienced nearly the benefit I’m getting now with a daily ritual. It is this way with absolutely everything in life, I’ve found. The daily rhythm matters. There is no replacement for it. Want to be a better cook? Do it everyday. Want to be in better shape? Move your body everyday. Want to be a better writer? Write everyday. Want to know someone better? Connect with that person everyday. All of life rests in what happens repeatedly, not what we do once in a while when we feel like it. That is a hard thing to swallow sometimes when it’s not always easy to do these things, but that is the truth.

My kids’ father is traveling across the ocean with his current wife this week. They land this weekend to spend it with the kids and then fly out again somewhere else a few days later. As always, I am here with the regular, predictable rhythm.

They call the kids every evening with the daily report of sights seen and presents purchased. I hear the chatter as they explain these things to the kids, and I wonder if this ever stops being strange. I stir dinner on the stove and unpack the backpacks and wash the clothes, and the ocean between us feels more like a universe because I just cannot imagine any other daily life than this one. Sunrise at the bus stop, school days ticking by, dinner at a table for three, and warm bedtime stories before we do it all again the next day.

Travel can bring all kinds of exciting things, and home (especially in the dead of winter) is not always so exciting to say the least. But I’ve been doing so much reading and writing lately about this place I call home, so much reflecting on the stories that float to the surface of my 36 years on this spinning planet, and I think maybe home doesn’t get enough credit for discovery either. I drive the same winding roads everyday to and from work. We lean on the same schedule everyday before and after school. It’s hard not to feel restless sometimes, but that’s the thing about home. You cannot run when you are here. My roots are deep enough in this place that I’ve come to see what self-accountability means. And at the end of the day, life is only made of what you use to create it with your own two hands.

As I stirred the soup tonight waiting for us in the slow cooker, I called my grandad to check in on him and on another family member. I could hear clucking in the background, and he explained he was “fastenin’ up the chickens” as he does every night at the same time. He is from a time that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – one when accountability and honesty were the measure of a man and consistency was paramount. Sometimes it feels like in all the beautiful, wide open possibility of what we see before us in the 21st century, we have lost that touchstone somehow. Jude loves pinto beans, and now that my grandad knows that, he’s asking when we can come for dinner so that he can make them for him. (He was never the cook in the family, but in my grandmother’s absence, he’s somehow absorbed her insistence on feeding legions of people and memorizing our food preferences and sending us out the door with arms full of food… It is hilarious and another post for another day.)

It made me smile to think of every bit of this. The daily task of “fastening the chickens” and gathering the eggs. The way he predicts the weather more accurately than any meteorologist just by the cumulative wisdom of a lifetime of paying attention. The generous offer to feed a growing boy with what he loves and a nod to the days when beans cooked all day were served in a single bowl with homemade bread in a skillet and that alone was called dinner (still works for us).

It is the simplicity of what happens every single day that illuminates the core of your character and offers a rhythm for your life. I need to remember this among the early wake-ups and the packed lunch boxes and the evening rituals. Home is here for you when you need it, but it only blooms when you plant it. You have to tend a garden to watch it grow.

 

process and evolution

I’m almost to week three of this semester, but it feels like years. Winter can do that to you.

Where to begin? I haven’t written here in weeks, and I have been doing nothing and everything. We’ve had school closures during both weeks of the school year so far. Only little days sprinkled here and there, just enough to throw you off your usual routine. The kids have gone to dad’s for 24 hours instead of the usual every-other-weekend 48 hour routine because of his travel schedule, and it seems to be exactly enough time to answer an email or two, mop the floors, and grocery shop before they come pouring back in. Rinse, repeat. Do it again.

We were home on Wednesday for school cancellations when I walked in my garage to grab something from the car and saw my back tire flat as a pancake. It’s a long and boring story, but this is not the first time I’ve had issues with this tire. I kept going back to the same shop because they were under warranty there, and the man on duty persisted to attempt to flirt with me in such an overt way that it made me dread walking in, and then he’d fail at fixing my problem so that every time I returned I was increasingly aggravated and uncomfortable. Car issues are a major trigger for me in terms of stress. I know next to nothing about cars, and I rely on mine so much with long commutes and kid pick ups and general life needs in the suburbs.

But here I am on Saturday morning in a warm and quiet house with a functional car again and a clean week ahead of me with a weather forecast that promises five solid days of work and routine. I’m feeling for the rhythm again and trying to use its beat to push me forward.

I’ve heard before that the specific challenges that emerge in your life point to where you need to grow. I hate car trouble. I hate being assertive in general and especially with an auto mechanic. I hate it all. I lived 35 years of my life without once getting a nail in a tire, and in the past year I’ve had this happen 4 times. I also ended up with a dead battery over the summer. And the broken compressor I wrote about a while ago. But this time I walked in with a different feeling. I was happy to see a different mechanic there, but I fully intended to ask for another one if I came in to see the same face who made me so uncomfortable before. With some instruction, I used a tire inflator to reinflate my own tire in my garage just before I drove over – which I know is simple and not impressive to anyone who knows anything about cars, but this is a major improvement for me.

I was watching this documentary last night on the Galapagos Islands and all the animals who have adapted and evolved to survive in such a strange climate. All kinds of miracles happen when you need to survive — you grow webbed feet or your wings get longer or shorter or you change your diet or you cooperate with the other species around you to get what you need from each other.

When I rewind my life three years back and compare it to my current self, that evolution is no less impressive than a bird growing webbed feet when he never had them before. Anytime I feel frustrated with myself, I think I just need to rewind the frame a few years and remind myself of that.

I ran across someone else’s words this week that said something along the lines of “People mistakenly think happiness is the goal in life and are persistently disappointed and endlessly searching for it. But when you realize that personal growth is actually the goal, happiness happens anyway as a byproduct of your growth and evolution.” The joy is in the process, isn’t it?

Part of the reason I chose Trust as my word this year is that so much of my life feels like process instead of completion. I’m trying hard to trust that this is, in fact, going somewhere very good if I just keep taking on the assignment in front of me. One foot in front of the other. Next right thing.

I haven’t been writing here as often because, as much as I love this space and all of you who read it, I’m seeing that it does take a little time and creative energy, and I am chugging away on this book one line at a time with real progress now. I’m seeing firsthand the feeling of that famous Doctorow quote about how writing a book is like driving in the dark with headlights where you can only see the little span of road in front of you. I get that. I can only really see one paragraph at a time. But at the same time, I see the whole vision now, too. Finally. I see the general shape of what this will be, and I trust the process that will take me all the way there.

The process is ugly sometimes. I’m digging deep and writing about moments that have been beyond hard for me. I threw out something like 33 pages last month and started all over, but I’m at that moment where I can feel my little boat floating from the shore with this project, and I think I will be on the water for a while. Letting it float me all the way home.

 

 

trust

It is a little past 10pm on New Year’s Eve. I’m alone, and the house is quiet. A neighbor invited me to stop in for a drink and an appetizer, so I grabbed a flashlight and my heaviest coat to walk over for a little while and home again now to find my warm bed and a book. It is cold – for Georgia anyway. A solid week of freezing temperatures ahead. Tomorrow begins 2018.

I drove 45 minutes today to spend a few hours at Atlanta’s Korean Spa and Wellness Center. My friend introduced me to this spot earlier this year, and today I went alone. It seemed to make sense to end the year this way, and I needed the physical element of self-care today. It’s gender-segregated with nude areas, and as I sat there in the hot tubs – not knowing a soul around me – I considered how much change I have seen in my own self in the past few years. Most of my timidness is gone, and what is left underneath is someone I genuinely like. This is important, I think. To like yourself. At 36 years old, here in 2017, I figured that out.

I had a body scrub where I laid still while someone scrubbed every bit of outer skin from my body to leave me feeling like velvet. Then I laid in various saunas – charcoal and salt and clay and jade – for hours, stepping out only to cool off a minute and refill my water. I sweat out and sloughed off every last bit of 2017 today. My body is ready to begin the new year.

When I got home, I took a minute to relax a bit more and light candles and pull out my journal. I made a list of the most beautiful and meaningful moments or experiences in 2017. There are so many. I will forever remember this year as the year I got out of survival mode and ran forward in a real way. I scribbled a list that runs the length of the page. … The kids learned to swim. I began my online writing workshop. I deepened my yoga practice. We spent a weekend alone in the woods that was perfect. I embarked on a relationship, and it broke and was mended again in a different way and left the two of us with a deeper friendship now that we are on the other side.  I began my book. My confidence grew in a million tiny ways that somehow add up to something big.

Then I wrote a list of the things I want to leave behind in 2018. They are no surprise. All the shoulds. Needless apologies. Self-judgment. Fear. Timelines.

Rather than abide by regular formal goals and resolutions, I’ve been looking to theme words this past few years. 2016’s was write. 2017’s was intention. This year, my word is trust. I want to lean into the unknown with the assurance that I am held. I want to trust that everything is right on time.

I added a Rilke quote on the back of our Christmas cards this year. And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been. I have such high hopes for you, 2018. For abundance and clarity and trust above all else. So many things lie ahead. Things that have never been.

 

 

keep on keepin’ on

Somehow nearly three weeks sped past since I last wrote here. I am not even certain exactly what I’ve been doing that has had me so busy. Just regular life, I suppose. Wrapping gifts and prepping Christmas traditions and school parties and the everyday life that already leaves us feeling busy as it is.

The Christmas anticipation was fun, and the day itself was lovely, but now I’m glad it’s over. Am I allowed to say that? I am grateful for the next week or so to decompress and reflect and restore order, and I’m ready for the blank slate of a new year.

We spent Christmas Eve with my family, and the kids played with cousins. They ran around outside playing hide and seek until the food was ready, and then they returned inside to eat and play games until late. They got a few toys to play with, but the adults in my family stopped exchanging gifts years ago when we realized that we have all we need and kids are a lot more fun to shop for. (This change improved my holidays ten times over, by the way. No stress of shopping for anyone other than kids.) But this year, my granddad surprised us with one of the best gifts I have ever received. He’d found a box full of old quilt tops my grandmother had packed away. Most of these were stitched by her own mother, and a few were even pieced by her grandmother. So if you’re counting generations, that is my great-great grandmother. (!!) They were the tops only, and the rest of it was unfinished, so he found someone to finish them and one-by-one had them completed. There were enough for each of the girls in the family to get one.

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No store-bought gift could compare to this. It blows my mind to think about – each stitch completed with love and care, and it laid unfinished in a box for decades only to re-emerge as something whole and real and beautiful. We never know where our story ends, do we? We never know how what we create today will live on and on. So many things in my life feel unfinished, and I’m grateful to have this reminder to take the long view.

When we got home on Christmas Eve, my kids put the cookies out for Santa and hurried to bed as quickly as they could. They don’t always get along easily these days, but the best Christmas Miracle imaginable is that they have really played together so well these last couple of weeks. It has felt like such a gift to me when I’ve grown used to more sibling bickering than I’d like.

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They’d written letters to Santa earlier in the week. Norah’s list was a random assortment of all kinds of things that just occurred to her with no warning (typical five year old) — a stuffed animal, a doll, a pretend pet bird who can fit on your shoulder, and pineapple from the North Pole. Jude’s contained only one item that he’s been asking for since September — a Nintendo Switch.

They ran down the stairs on Christmas morning at 5:58am (yawn), and waded through their gifts. But they paced themselves on opening them and talked a little about each one which pleasantly surprised me. Jude was beyond surprised to get the Switch even though it was all he has asked for. He didn’t expect it somehow. But it cracked me up that the gifts that brought the biggest smiles and the most excitement were the North Pole Pineapple ($2.65 at Publix) and a package of root beer (impulse buy for a boy who loves it but never gets to drink it at home). You just never know what little things will bring joy.

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Christmas is so heavily laced with nostalgia and meaning. It’s easy to get wrapped up in it – especially as a parent. We try to make it perfect enough to leave some indelible imprint in their memory, but one thing I’m understanding as I begin to string chapters together for this book I’m working on is that memories are actually not made in isolation. When we remember one thing or one moment, it is actually laced with meaning and layer upon layer of association — not just that one day in time.

I’ve made such a conscious effort this past few years to see Christmas as any other day – with a few extra celebrations. I do the best I can to show them the traditions that can ground us, the reason for the holiday, and the value of both giving and receiving. And then I let it go. I do not compare to what it looked like before or what it might look like in the future or what it looks like in homes outside of my own.

All I know now is that I do the best I can and that somehow the three of us fill the room with enough light to drown out any shadows of inadequacy or comparison that may be lingering in some dark corner of my own mind. 2017 is the year I figured out that fear and negativity and dissatisfaction do not grow when you don’t feed them.

Some holidays are hard and some years are hard, and we just have to accept that sometimes. Life doesn’t look like exactly what we thought it would, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we just move right along to what is good about right now and perhaps even what is better than we expected as a result of the unforeseen. I recently ran across a Maya Angelou quote on Instagram and some commentary relating it to the holidays and what they can feel like when we lose ourselves in some expectation of comparison and think we have failed if we do not make it The Best Christmas Ever. Angelou says, “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

The holidays became a lot easier for me when I realized that, in actuality, they are just another day in a series of 364 other ones where we get to create magic and possibility and joy and comfort and peace and fulfillment. What Maya seems to be saying there to me is keep on keepin’ on. And so I am. With root beer and North Pole pineapple and cozy nights at home under my new quilt. The best is yet to come, and there is always more. Christmas joy is like no other, but that same peace waits for me all year long when I slow down enough to see it.

on making magic

The holidays are officially here. It is snowing outside (!!!) in Georgia as I type this. We occasionally have icy snow in February or so, but these are fluffy flakes that are melting as they hit the roadways but covering branches in white this morning. As a native southerner, I will never think it’s anything less than magical to see snow out my window. I’m drinking coffee to armor up for a long day of grading essays while the kids are at school, but I wanted to take a minute to write first.

I took Norah to a Nutcracker tea party last weekend hosted by her ballet studio. We had treats and tea and watched the “big girls” perform Nutcracker variations. I caught a glimpse of her face watching them, and it is everything I love about ballet condensed to one expression – the awe and the dreaming and the bewilderment at the grace of it all.

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She watches the older girls practice in the studio sometimes and looks at them like they are celebrities. I try to use it as an opportunity to talk about hard work and perseverance, but she mainly just sees it as some kind of magic they have that she hopes to grasp one day.

I see parallels there in my own self. As humans, we tend to look at success in any area – career, health, relationships, anything – as some kind of magic sauce, but when we break anything down to see the smaller pieces, it’s clear that we make our own magic, don’t we? Or at least we make it bloom where the spark began. It starts like some magnetic thing we can’t quite put words to, and it grows when we decide to lean in and make it our own.

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Our elf is not typically very exciting or creative, but he brought a skittle rainbow today. (I can’t take all the credit. I had help on this idea.) Both kids stood enamored this morning with their bed heads and sleepy eyes watching the colors swirl. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of kids is such a reminder that enchantment is there for us if we are just willing to open our eyes to see it. And as a parent pulling all the strings, it also emphasizes my role in creating my life’s magic.

It always requires leaning in a little past where I normally would, laying bare what I usually shy away from showing, and letting that spark ignite without judgement or expectation or cynicism. I think as I get older I am finally understanding that magic does not simply fall from the sky fully formed and ready to bestow itself on the lucky few. It starts with a spark, and it evolves to some kind of fascinating alchemy when we show up for our own lives with a true curiosity, a clear voice, and an open heart.