Books

the rushing lens of a microscope

I find myself falling down some black hole of time lately. I wonder where my hours go, what I do. I can’t always name much at the end of the day. I grade a few papers, read and prep for class but not as much as I would’ve liked, answer an email or two, run that lingering errand, pick up kids from school, make dinner, and then 6-10pm is swallowed up with all the things required at the end of the day, and my tired head hits the pillow.

Somehow things become more involved than you think they should. As is the case with all of life, it seems. In a current course I’m teaching, I begin the semester listening to Jenny Hollowell’s “A History of Everything, Including You” with my students. (It’s featured in New Sudden Fiction, but you can listen to her read it herself on this podcast here.)

This particular story feels like some rushing lens of a microscope zooming from the cosmic confusion of the dawn of the universe to the very particular pain of an individual woman. It’s a work I can read again and again, and it resonates with me more each time. How did we get here? And I can mean that collectively, as a society, as I watch the news unfold hourly these days. Or how did I get here? I can ask that personally and know that there is no short answer for the hum that is created from all the pieces that add up to what I have become. One thing leads to another and to another, and before you know it, your life has a shape all its own that has come to pass because of a thousand twists and turns, some intentional and some circumstantial.

I have the urge to simplify everything right now. Clean the closets and throw things out that I no longer need. Check my tasks off as quickly as I can without muddling them with too much thought. Read some bulleted list of news without the analysis I usually crave. The older you get, the more you see why that’s hard though. Things have layers of attachment and value. Tasks have more thoughtful ways of being done if we take the time. News has loads of context that you don’t get with a quick bold heading or summary. People have layers upon layers of meaning and history that construct who they are and how they see the world.

Tonight is said to hold a full moon, a comet, and an eclipse at the same time. An eclipse in Leo which astrology tells us is a fire sign – known for being bold and playful and confident and creative. I don’t chart my life by a horoscope, but I love the ceremonial spaces granted to us with the changes and cycles in the sky above. And I always need a reminder that things are bigger and grander and more complicated than I can ever imagine, but yet my tiny little life in this warm house is what I hold and what matters.

Eclipses are also often representative of endings and beginnings, closings and openings. They invite us to think about what can be left behind and what threshold we need to cross next. This one is reminding me that the layers are always going to feel messy and deep and too difficult to understand, but it’s still my job to walk forward anyway, to figure out what I am meant to do in this season and this place, to find what makes me happy and do more of it. I’m ready to close this season that’s left me feeling like I’m almost drowning. I’m ready to reclaim that creative energy and move forward through the muddled complicated layers to find something simple again.

David Whyte has a poem that says, “Sometimes everything has to be inscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside of you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that first, bright and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart.” 

The kids and I huddled under blankets tonight and ate take-out in the living room while watching a movie. Then upstairs for bed, and I can hear them snoring now with the perennial February sniffles that always appear this time of year. The moon is bright enough to shine through the blinds and leave some faded lines of light along my bedroom wall as I’m typing this. There’s something big inscribed across the heavens tonight three times over, but I can hear that one line written inside, too. Pulsing like a heartbeat. Here, now. Here, now. Ready to begin again.

 

 

 

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gratitude

brave

I turned the page to a new calendar today, and I don’t remember the last time that felt so good. Actually, that’s not true. I said the same thing in 2015 and 2016. This last few years have left me like some molting animal, I think. Shedding, shedding, shedding continuously. By the time the year is over, I am so ready to shake it loose and let the layers fall.

The kids’ custody schedule this holiday has had them back and forth a lot, and I am not sure I like it that way. Every 3 or 4 days, they were packing up to head to the other parent’s house, so it felt like we could hardly sink in before they left again and again. They are due home any minute now, and we have a huge family gathering tonight followed by a few more days of leisure before school schedules resume.

I think I am ready to move forward to the hard work of getting started this year. I cannot look back at the last two years of my life and say I’ve been complacent…. This journal, above all else, shows me the ways I’ve grown immeasurably. But as I wrote here a few days ago, I’ve just been swimming along as best I can with a pretty strong current that wasn’t really controlled by me. I’m on the road to intention again now, I hope.

I took a while today to go through all the things I’d written in my gratitude jar this year. One by one, I pulled them out and read what I’d scribbled, and I am consistently reminded each year how only the very simplest things can bring me real joy. Any handful I grabbed to read brought the same message.

January 4 Driving, winter sunset. Black, bare branches against the sky. Patty Griffin from the speakers. March 3 Cold rain, fuzzy blanket. May 22 Norah running from the neighbor’s house to ours at 7pm. Golden light. Smiling. June 17 Talking with Grandmother as she lays in the bed. She sees me yawn and tells me to place a pillow next to her hip and lie down with her. Her wrinkled hands next to me. July 23 Winery with friends, outside table, north Georgia hills, sunshine, breeze. October 16 Singing happy birthday to Jude with a candle in the brownie pan. No ceiling above us in the kitchen. Laughing. November 27 Writing in bed, cold outside. Blanket heavy.

I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done is to stay open. I’m seeing this now again and again, and it never stops being hard. Open in the face of fear and uncertainty. Open in the face of what we’ve had to do before. It is difficult to soften instead of harden, isn’t it? The bravest thing, no doubt. The only way I can do it is to chase that beauty and find the light somehow.

What I see when I read these scribbled sheets of paper and I revisit the very best moments in my year and in my life is that I was open to it – whatever it was. I was paying attention and ready and waiting for love to show up in one of its many forms. Love comes in beauty, in comfort, in laughter, in solitude, in song, and most of all in the quiet. When I have the patience to wait for it and the willingness to perceive it, I see it everywhere.

In Tiny Beautiful Things, there’s a letter where Strayed urges the reader,“You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.”

Intention is my word for the year. I am tired of being swept in the current. I want this to reflect itself in every facet of my life – my home, my bank account, my classroom, my relationship with my kids, my time and energy, my writing.

My life’s work, all of it, is to pay attention and know myself and do things on purpose. Piece by piece, it will come together like it’s meant to. I have no doubt.

To doing and being and stretching in the directions we are meant to stretch. To creating a life that is good and big and kind and forgiving and brave. To purpose and intention as we march forward to what’s ahead. Happy New Year, reader! Onward.

 

 

 

Life and Randomness

magic shield

As you can see, I gave this space a much-needed face-lift this week. As it turns out though I had hardly noticed, this blog had looked the exact same since something like summer of 2011. My life changed a million times over as did the content in this space, but I hadn’t taken the time to update the aesthetics. It began to feel itchy and stifling, and a few changes brought me some fresh air, I think. It’s weird how we can keep things the same in our lives long after their time has passed. You forget to pay attention to the details, and then one day you wake up and see that it just doesn’t fit anymore. Change is good. I’ve also added a FAQ page at the top with a few questions that I get often from readers. While I still love hearing from some of you, I figured it was easier to put the commonly asked topics in one easy space.

It is still hot, hot, hot outside. Even for Georgia. We usually don’t wave a solid goodbye to summer until early October, but we also normally get a little tease of fall by now. The temperatures are hovering in the mid-eighties this year though, without even one day’s break from it. I am ready for new. The car thermometer read 94 yesterday, and we went swimming for a bit after school. The pool has lost its charm to me by now though. I’m ready to see leaves change and cycles begin again.

I’m clutching hard to little things to help me move through the weeks these days. Motivation is in short supply over here. This week, it was Malbec after dinner, mid-morning lattes at my work desk, Costco take-and-bake pizza, and bathtub crayons. Sometimes you just have to get it where you can find it and try to squeeze out every last drop until a new breeze gets here.

Untitled

Energy is hard to come by in the end of a season, isn’t it? Nature works in seasons so that cycles can happen again and again. Death and quiet and stillness and new life and fullness, too. Life is that way when you let it happen, I’m finding. Everything else in the world exists in seasons and rhythms, and it’s completely okay that I do as well – more than okay actually. It’s necessary. But when you feel like you want to move forward, but it’s just not quite happening yet, it’s hard. I just want to lay in bed with covers pulled tight until the new arrives. I have to just wait it out and let it pass. It’s time for this season to move on, time to turn a page. I’ve got work to do.

I’ve been listening this week to Rob Bell’s latest podcast series, and it is SO good. He’s delving into the wisdom tradition, and I’m finding so many morsels I needed to hear right now. I’ve worked so hard in the year that has passed – stillness even when it hurt, honesty even when it was hard, reading and writing and yoga and time alone and more writing. All of these things have pushed me out of what is comfortable and burned away what needed to fade in my own heart, but now I am finding another challenge, another place where a different kind of work begins. Here’s the shitty part about doing all of this self-growth and hard change: the world around you doesn’t always reflect your own growth, does it? There are obstacles you have to break through and confines you need to somehow break out of, and it is hard because while you can steer the ship on your own change and growth, you can’t keep other outside challenges on that same track. It sometimes feels like starting over even though I feel so different from the inside out.

In the episode I listened to yesterday, Bell explained “When you come to see that you are the steward of your energies, you begin to become much more aware of what you don’t involve yourself in. … That thing you know you should do, that’s generally how it starts. You just get a step, not much. You get enough shape, contour, and texture to know what direction to leap in.”  I have an idea brewing and a shape and a contour, but I have nothing else. Just a little nudge. That is hard enough, but then I also feel the weight of conflict and distractions pulling me when I want to ignore them. I knew that you always transfer pain to someone else if you don’t tackle it head-on, and I don’t feel that pain in the same way I did a year ago because of my own honesty with it before. But when people don’t face that pain and become harder and harder and transfer it to you, then what do you do? I’m asking this as a genuine question. What works as a deflector shield for that? What I am left with now that I have dealt with my own mess is how to avoid absorbing others’ when it’s been left festering.

In the same podcast, Rob Bell gave a warning about using our energies on the wrong things and how that impedes your vision and your work. “What you get worked up over is a reflection of how you understand your sacred, God-given, holy, precious energies. What you give your energy to is a reflection of how you understand your worth and power and energy. This isn’t about ego. It’s about engagement.” Pushing the ego aside, knowing that someone else’s bitterness is not your problem and no reflection on you, it sounds so easy in theory, but it is hard in daily practice. My worldview might be vastly different from someone else’s, and how do I bridge that gap? It’s a constant challenge for me in this season.

This is the thing humans refuse to see and accept somehow. When you run from your pain or your problems and pretend they are not there, it grows and grows until it hardens, and the thicket it creates poisons everything around it. When I am safe in my own bubble – my own home and my own kids and my own friends and family – I feel soft and light and real. But sometimes the world outside feels hard, and I guess that’s the truth of the matter that we have to contend with.

I’m working to find that magic shield if it exists, that magic formula that pushes it away instead of absorbs it. Until then, I’m holding fast to the little things – bathtub crayons or dinners with friends or quiet mornings in bed focused on my own work and my own spark. I’ve come this far, and I’m not stopping now. The shine is too stubborn and the promise too bright.