Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Thursday 13: Just a Life

1. She keeps her "to do" lists on 8x11 envelopes
2. This has been an incompatible and intriguing summer of Weight Watchers and Diary Queen hot fudge sundaes
3. Once she fell through a manhole cover. The emergency room doctor who treated the cut on her leg called it a ##@@&&** big laceration.
4. Another time she passed out while eating lobster at a little pier in Maine. The emergency room doctor touched her shoulder and told her it was a pleasure to meet her. For some reason she knew he meant it.
5. She makes pesto and freezes it in ice cube trays.
6. She and her family do the best Christmas stockings every year--no drug store fillers for this group.
7. Her picture is included at the request of a feisty and talented blog-friend.
8. Her apartment in Germany was so cold that the toilet often froze.
9. She is capable of seeing flowers rhythmically dancing in the wind
10. Put her in a bookstore and she'll browse for hours. Try a clothing store and she's restless after 5 minutes.
11. Her two best friends are men.
12. Is this the face of a grandmother?
13. Will she paint birdhouses this winter? Will her book be picked up by a
publisher? Will she ever learn to carry a tune? Is she really as wise
as she occasionally feels? Are the Red Sox finished?

Your Jittery Mind

This comes from the work I am currently doing.
Part 1 is about "Your Jittery Mind".
Part 2--coming at a later date-- is about"Your Hopeful Heart"

Your heart pounds. Your hands sweat. Your head spins. Your balance sways. Are you facing a mugger in a fight for your life? Or a moving vehicle coming at you at 70 miles an hour? Are you on the receiving end of a phonecall that includes the words “cancer” and “inoperable”?

Or, are you preparing for that job interview, being introduced to your blind date, fighting rush hour traffic, or presenting a marketing plan to your boss?

Do you get the difference? Psychological fear is not the same as actual danger, but it will feel that way unless you understand how fear works and how your mind reacts to it.

Preparing for crises and creating contingency plans is useful in the concrete world of flying airplanes and repairing heart valves. But in your day-to-day life, the more you try to control events and bolster your protection against real or perceived hurts, the more fear begins to dominate how you live and what you decide. It can knock you right out of the present moment. Your mind’s response to fear can protect you from grave harm, but it can also close you down and freeze you shut.

From the dawn of personkind, the human mind has been hardwired to warn of impending danger. The warning comes through clear and compelling physical alarms: rapid heartbeat, sweating, lightheadedness, increased adrenaline, sometimes even unnatural strength and courage. But the days of fighting for food or guarding against predators is long gone. In the 21st century, our real life “dangers” are mostly psychological: the unexpected layoff, the broken heart, the fear of the dark--but your mind doesn’t know the difference.

In the world of DNA hardwiring, danger is danger, and until you understand that the difference between psychological fear and true threat, you may react to any of these symptoms as if you are in a fight for your life. Except you aren’t, because a blind date or a new job interview is not in the same class as facing a frothing wild tiger or feeling a knife at your throat.

So unless you actively intervene, here’s what happens as you prepare for that blind date or job interview: your mind reves into high gear, preparing, planning, and anticipating every step you take and every step you even think about. In high alert, it kicks off what’s called the ‘fight or flight’ response: you mobilize in an instant to either tightly stand and defend yourself, or run like hell. The good news is that in dire terrifying circumstances, you will try every means possible to shield yourself from harm—sometimes even through supernatural strength or courage that you didn’t know you had. But the bad news is that your mind’s focus on safety, facts, and guarantees can overreact to normal events and that can limit your possibilities and smother your movement. When it comes to life and career decisions, the very thought of moving to a new location or readying for a job interview can send you into full alert mode. From your mind’s perspective, the unknown is the enemy.

The trick is to find a way to convince your mind that things are ok. This is a problem because your mind can’t hear you very well when it’s searching so quickly for facts and solutions. You experience this as racing—a mind that never stops. When the facts aren’t clear, your mindresists taking any steps or making making any decisions without them.

You’ll do yourself a huge favor by simply recognizing that most of your fears do not fall in the category of extreme danger. Then you can help your mind relax and lighten up.

There are only two ways you can overcome the strict rationality and overprotection of your mind: you either need to quiet it (meditation? physical exercise?) or re-assure it (“It’s ok, mind, we are going to try something new, but I promise I will check with you before making a final decision).

Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind and Body Institute has empirically proven the power and benefit of bypassing your mind altogether when facing important decisions or seeking a calm shelter. Doing this probably contradicts what you’ve been taught since childhood, which is that reason and logic are far more trustworthy than faith and emotion.

Since most of us apologize for being “too emotional”, you are probably accustomed to making major life decisions by minimizing or ignoring your emotions. Actually, the facts contradict this approach: reason works better when emotions are present: a person sees sharper and more accurately when his/her emotions are engaged. The truth is you really can’t see an object or a situation clearly unless you have some emotional involvement with it.

If you're relying on a brain surgeon or flight pilot, you want logic. But day-to-day fears cannot be quelled by your mind. And good decisions can't be made without the involvement of your heart.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Rough Day and Random Thoughts

It's actually been a bear of a day. First, blogger demanded my password, rejected my name, kept mentioning google, and thoroughly made it impossible for me to post, comment, scroll, or enjoy. I assume google has changed its operating procedures, but, hey, how about some communication beforehand?

Then there's my ongoing problem with paperwork: a letter to my local city hall about a claim when the snowplow blew out the fence; another letter to a condo association that has fined me because my tenant's birdfeeder is too large (say, what?); and a search for a water meter somewhere in the house that will tell if there's a water leak underground. Then there's the challenge of figuring out why our bills and budget works perfectly well on paper but doesn't work that way in reality. And finding a sink vanity with the same demensions as the old one so the floor doesn't have to be replaced too. And weighing what to do about 10 minutes of blow in insulation that will cost $ 550, even after the company ripped up our porch roof and had to replace it. And a new referral for counseling: am I ready to take on clients again? (It's been a fabulously playful summer).

Sometimes, too often, my life is filled with too many chores and too little simplicity. Today was one of those days.

I'm still reeling about blogger. Is it fixed? I cannot say. After repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying to find a person to speak with--anyone--I'm resigned to the fact that I either have to hope I will learn more about blog operation, or....wait until something fixes itself. Guess which of these two scenarios has allowed me to write this post.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Thursday 13 in Pictures

  1. Once upon a time a family lived in a 14 room house with 3 floors and one small patio. They were a happy family to the end, when they moved.

2. They lived in this house for 20 years: they and two dogs, two cats, one bird, two hampsters, and one special fish.

3. They moved because it was expensive where they lived, they were ready to simplify, and the house was a two family condo and they decided the privacy and yard of a single family house would be wonderful.

4. So they moved to this house:

5. The only thing wrong with this house was that the youngest of this happy family did not move here too because she fell in love and married a nice man and together they understandably got a place of their own. Fortunately for all, love multiplies instead of divides.

6. The new house is a cozy little place, after a year of painting and unpacking and moving things around and getting settled.

7. From the kitchen window you can see butterflies in the zinnias and birds in the birdbath and an occasional hummingbird.

8. The back hall of this ranch house ended up looking kind of spiritual, which is a good thing for any number of reasons. The back hall has been dubbed "the wing".

9. The view from the back porch overlooks the hollywood hot tub. The backyard used to be open to a major road and constant traffic but a fence changed all that.

10. This is jb's studio, the Magic Cottage.

11. The house sits on land that was a working farm, so the soil is rich and fertile. kj's garden has been awesome thanks to that, a full sun, and blessings from above.

12. The view from above includes very tall pine trees and a number of happy birds flying every which way. The view from the hammock is the best because you can look and sway at the same time. That approach can solve alot of problems and resolve alot of worries.

13. Part A: One day a very sweet dog arrived, after a bit of a tough life. She has an elegant tail and elegant paws.

13. Part B: This very sweet dog has joined a very nice family who likes to gallavant and play.

The End.

Poetry Thursday (a little late): Tick Tock


It could be my first breath,
Or my maybe my last.
I begin the beginning
And look past the past.

The earth offers up
Every clue, every start.
When I know how to look
I arrive at my heart.

It’s simple, not hard
When I let my pride go
To honor today
And all that I know.

The passing of time
Moves forward, not back
In the searching you gain
Everything that you lack.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Ocean Beckons

I'll be out of reach for a little while. In the meantime, the New England season begins its transformation from sultry to crisp. And I continue my own transformation from self-containment to self-amazement. This is as good a time as any to thank you--each of you--you know who you are--even if you don't know who you are--for being my blog-pal. Another reason for me to feel grateful. Be back soon :)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Poetry Thursday

This is my first entry in Poetry Thursday. This week the prompt is whatever pleases me.
I wrote this poem in the big yellow writing group not even a year ago, and it may have been the first time I read my poetry aloud. It's also my favorite for reasons that come from the heart.

If I were dying tonight,
Lying in my bed with plastic tubes and half-filled bottles
On the small table nearby
and bedpans and oxygen there to diminish any shame,
Perhaps forcing my breaths
with the strength of a desperate parent
who implausibly and frantically lifts two tons
of mangled steel off a broken daughter—
If I were dying tonight and I wished to tell you
What will astonish you,
I would tell you this:

Be sure to notice white flowers in the moonlight,
Because the softened glow is like no other.

Appreciate the lingering scent of garlic on your fingers,
Because healing is possible from that alone.

Tell the truth when it matters least
Because then you will be sure there is another honest person in the world.

Always spend the extra money for dimmers
Because light that builds in intensity and then gently fades is
good for your spirit.

Over and over, ask yourself, “What is the lesson here?”
Because then you will forever be a student and never a victim

Never believe for a moment that the world is going to hell
Because you only need to love outside yourself to know better.

If I were dying tonight, I would tell you all this
Because astonishment is brethren to curiosity,
Which leads to observation,
And dedication,
And finally appreciation.

If I were dying tonight, perhaps there would only be minutes,
Perhaps only seconds,
To tell you that I will leave with all the love
I have ever felt, and ever given.
I will take it all with me, tucked under my angel wing—
The accumulation of grace from every breath I have ever taken.

Here’s what’s astonishing: I will also leave all that love behind,
It will be imbedded in my daughter’s stunning light and my partner’s quiet
It will guide my friends and coworkers when the layoff comes.
My brother will remember how I tried to do my share
And Joey will find someone else like me to help him tame his fears.
Even the woman at the grocery store that day I let her go ahead of me—will remember how we were both comforted from that simple act.

If I were dying tonight, I would also tell you
That within, under, because of, and from the little moments
Comes all the wonder and astonishment you could ever hope for.
The little moments that aren’t so little.
I would tell you to let those moments astonish you.
I would tell you this because it is all you need to know.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Thursday 13

1. I drive 4 hours one day a week to visit my mother and help her with groceries, bills, etc.

2. One of my favorite gallavants was driving from San Francisco to Truckee CA. The little town of Truckee is still one of my best memories because it looked like a true western town and had a great clothing store and interesting shops.

3. My dog Stella gets acupuncture once a month to help her damaged spine. I'm here to say it has helped her enormously: she moves and runs much easier afterwards.

4. I was a counselor for two years at an Army Education Center in Germany. It was a fabulous job at an artillery and tank base. The ed center was a easy place on base. Hundreds of men, just a handful of women.

5. When I see something that seems unjust or dishonest, I want to fix it (and sometimes too often I try despite the odds).

6. I could hire my own orthopedic surgeon these days: I have low back pain, a cranky old miniscus injury in my knee, and a rotator cuff tear in my shoulder. All will improve with time and exercise, but geez...

7. When Fall arrives, some people around here will sell pumpkins at the end of their driveways for a dollar or two.

8. I've had the same occasional dream for years: I'm alone in a foreign country and I can't figure out how to use the payphone. (scary...)

9. I love playing the slot machines at casinos. Because each spin is exhilerating to me, I figure it's an addiction I manage to keep in check. I usually lose more than I win.

10. I heard yesterday of a credible report that the US administration arranged for Israel to extend bombing Lebanon so Hezballah's missle system would be weakened and the US could then use force on Iran. I'm disgusted to say I believe it. The older I get, the less I understand.

11. Ever since I volunteered in New Orleans last October, I understand the magnitude of returning home to find everything destroyed. I'll never forget seeing families spend entire days in knee high rubber boots, digging through muck and mud to salvage only a tuperware bowl or a glass vase--all that remained of their life in St. Bernard parish. Many lined up these precious objects at the end of their driveways and tried not to cry.

11. Origins puts out a little bottle called "peace of mind" that I dab on the back of my neck and it refreshes and relaxes me almost immediately.

12. My work requires that I be on equal footing with doctors, employers, counselors, and attornies. Attornies are my least favorite.

13. At the end of the week we are headed to Provincetown for a long week or so. I have walked barefoot along the Commercial Street Bay Beach for fifteen years or so and just about every good idea and dream I've had has come from those walks.

Monday, August 14, 2006

nothing but sweet

This is our little dining room, currently graced with a vase of pink zinnias and black-eyed susans grown and cut from our yard. We moved here a year ago and the house has become a vibrant sanctuary and easy resting place. jb's studio (the magic cottage..) is in the back yard and my writing room is in the back hall (the rear wing). The soil is rich and the sun is full. The gardener in me is in a state of perpectual glee and awe.
There's more I want to say, because I believe that sanctuaries like this house quiet the mind and calm the nerves. The house was built in 1950 and is solid. Frances and Bullah lived here for fifty years, raised Bullah's daughters here. Last year when we first arrived, I was careful not to disturb Frances' oregano in the back yard or to make changes to the space that left too little of them. That changed when I heard that following Bullah, Frances had died.
Now almost all the walls are repainted and you can see jb and i in the rooms. We wanted a space where visitors could be comfortable and self sufficient. We want our friends and family here: staying over and eating breakfast on the patio with us. Swinging on the hammock. Sharing stories. We like that.
The house has responded: this is a comfortable comforting place.
So about sanctuaries: even a corner will do. In the happiness workshops I've taught, I advise creating a sanctuary as a way to keep it simple--a place to go and to be to recharge, refill, replenish, release, refresh. Even in the smallest places, a candle can be set and a photo can be hung. That's all it takes to make a sacred space.
We've settled in here. I've spent alot of my life feeling unsettled and unsure about where I belong. The choices and possibilities have confused me. The truth is that I moved here quite reluctantly, and only because jb couldn't continue the painfully long commute to her work.
Neither of us expected this house to be right for us. It is a one floor ranch, and we're not ranch-types. We moved from our beach place in Provincetown, and lived in a Victorian before that.
But today it is right. We have a fire place in the livingroom and off that a porch with windows on 3 sides. We have a half-circle garden with herbs and tomatoes and giant basil. We have a hot tub in the back yard, under the stars with a hollywood-blue light that illuminates the water. We have a dog who appreciates the simple kindness she had not had in her life. We can drive 2 miles and be among working farms. And two miles the other way and fall into the funk and buzz of a college town with great restaurants and endless music and culture. And: We have eachother.
Not everything is ideal: I'm too far from some people I dearly love. And I'm land-locked.
I'm writing this from a place of deep gratitude, but I don't want to mislead or underplay the vague discontent I also feel at times, because that is part of my life too. I'm apt to lean into that discontent more these days rather than ignore or disquise it, and I think that is a good thing for me. I want to be real, even when I don't know much more than that.

I think it's important to connect with and honor the spaces in our lives. Maybe that's why this house, complete with our little dining room (and it is little!) feels so good. We have mutual respect --this house and us.
With this addition complete, I now end today with yesterday's ending: Life has its ups and downs and all arounds. But today I'm just glad to be upright and present in a sweet place.

For a Weary World

Here's to a hopeful world

Where kindness trumps convenience.
Simplicity beats out complexity.
Honor outshines winning.
And hotdamn, compromise is back in style.

Believing is the first sign--
When little actions
And softer landings
Offer a collective sigh of relief.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Sunday Scribblings #20 - "Who Else Can I Still Be?"

This is my first post for Sunday Scribblings. I appreciate another reason to write regularly. This, however, was written a while back. But it seems to fit the prompt this week. My apologies to my big yellow friends who have no doubt seen this before.

The Order of Things

When I was five I’d walk to school
With little question about the rules.
I knew teachers would like me fine
If I were cheerful and mostly kind.

When I was nine I began to see
My face and grace were mostly me,
But about then I sought to be
Someone else—a mystery.

I tucked my dress in my snow pants
And imagined myself as Sherlock Trance
In the field to solve the case
Of the missing pencil case.

When I was twelve something changed
My hair and body rearranged--
Colorless and very drab--
Though I was funny, I discovered sad.

I learned appearances ruled the roost
And pushed forward the awful truth
That I would not be viewed the way
That whiney Natasha became one day.

She’d throw her shoulders back and grin
Knowing that she’d made in
To the elist group of gawky boys
Who loved her cool and polished coy.

When I was fifteen I found a way
To advance myself to where I’d stay—
Popular, cool, myself unique
Still, my inner self dared not peep.

I mastered the tricky art of fame
Built a business, made a name
It was easy to believe
The order of things was to achieve

When I was thirty I met the challenge
Of loving a child and seeking some balance
But even then I tried my best
To push myself without a rest

What mattered most was quite apart
From who I was in my sweet heart.
I began to feel a hole within
Deep and hollow, like empty tin.

I knew enough not to settle
For surface joy made of metal.
So I dropped the charm and tried instead
To be myself, both heart and head

I began to listen more than I spoke
And success became my private joke
About the privilege of a good life
That included truths of loss or strife.

Today I am who I will be
In just this moment, gratefully.
I love and lust and lunge and laugh
I understand when I get half

Instead of whole it hardly matters
Because beneath the wind and chatters
My world is simply full and real
And I’ve become the real real deal.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thursday 13

1. I'm currently in love with pink zinnias.

2. Peet's coffee is the best--I buy 2 pounds whenever I'm in Boston/Brookline

3. I love to develop and present self-help workshops but I'm a wreck beforehand

4. I am braver emotionally than physically

5. I have been self employed most of my adult life

6. My writing room has a bookcase with glass doors,a roomy wrap around desk, floor length drapes from the 50's, calm salmon-colored walls,and a front seat window view of a very tall pine tree

7. The move to Western Mass. has been awesome. Among many wonderful pieces, I have near-by friends who can drop by for a quick cup of coffee.

8. I'm a better friend in crisis than I am day-to-day

9. I (very briefly--that's another story)owned a restaurant called Tomato City. We specialized in "piecemeals"--all kinds of appetizers--our American cafe version of tapas

10. A friend of mine has been a hospice volunteer for dozens of people. He says nobody passes over alone: at the end almost everyone describes being accompanied by someone they know or trust--could be a childhood teddybear, a deceased grandparent, or an arc angel.

11. And in a related topic, as far as I know, dentists and psychiatrists have the highest suicide rates

12. Sometimes I take a moment to sway in the backyard hammock and then I understand better.

13. I'm an ocean girl but this summer I've discovered the utility and beauty of lakes.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Today is my birthday. And today is the first time in 21 years that my mother has spent the night at my house. There's a long, sad, difficult,happy-ending story that explains why this is so, but today is not the day for that. Today my 90 year old mother and I are driving on these fragrant farm roads, picking up corn-on-the cob for dinner, and checking out the butterfly sanctuary that spooked me a few weeks ago.

Today I am shouting a collective "thank you" to my family, friends, community and the universe. And I am sharing my favorite poem of all time: Wild Geese by Provincetown's Mary Oliver. I hope it might find you at just the right moment and provide something sacred in the very moment you need it.

Thank you, thank you.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

1. I drive a Toyota RAV which I can't manage to keep neat or clean.

2. A few years ago I had the privilege of designing and developing the Provincetown Artisian Cooperative. 15 local craft artisians, and other consignor artists, joined together to create and maintain a successful storefront in Whaler's Wharf in Provincetown.

3. I've learned to love fruit, and I'm working on liking salads and salmon, but it's not a slam-dunk for me.

4. I kayaked last week for the first time and loved it: the same as a really fun amusement park ride.

5. I will never again cook a live lobster: too painful

6. I am a political junkie for unknown reasons

7. I am still thinking about the Dixie Chicks and love their new cd

8. At my father's wake, his neighborhood friend Nick, drunk and sad, stood at his coffin and yelled at him for dying. (No comment from my dad)

9. When my inexperienced mother flew to Florida with us a few years ago, as the plane was flying above the clouds, she exclaimed in honest wonder: "I never knew there were two skies". Almost everyone around us smiled.

10. My son-in-law Mike is a really good guy and I love how he and Jess care for eachother.

11. I've written what I think is a good book on Happiness but I won't go forward with it until I am more confident.

12. I unabashedly love dogs. They just warm my heart every time.

13. I'm learning it is possible to develop real friendships through blogging. I wouldn't have believed that before.

Vacation Tools and The Mystery of Now

First, an acknowledgement: I understand the story to follow is too long to include,and too long to read. But I can't help posting it anyway. It is the product of my recent vacation. I'm thinking about submitting it to a magazine of some kind in my active quest to "become" a writer. Of course the counselor in me can't help but add her two cents as well.....

Vacation Tools

One two inch white candle
2 black pilot pens
An unopened travel sized set of Winsor and Newton water colours
Two different sized water color sketch books
A little packet of incense
Fancy matches
A new bathing suit
15 year old spa quality flip-flops
2 books on writing: William Kinsser’s ”On Writing Well”; Julia Cameron’s “The Right to Write”
2 books by Margaret Wheatley: Turning to One Another and A Simpler Way
1 best seller: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
1 pound of Italian Roast Coffee
A digital camera
An unopened calligraphy set
My in-process book proposal and a sample of someone else’s

These are the tools of my vacation.

I’m currently staring across the street at a dozen or so mamouth pine trees, their stature reduced only slightly by the orange background and icy glimmer of dusk awash on Sebago Lake. JB and I are here through the kind offer of friends: one week in their just refurbished condo-house in Windham, Maine. There are two quaint lakeside houses between us and the water, but they fit nicely into the larger picture of a gorgeous lake just across the street, surrounded by gorgeous pines.

We arrived last night ready to unwind. I am hobbling with a fragile back these days but despite that I managed to pack my vacation toolbox with how I want to spend my time.

Years ago, a colleague introduced me to the idea of tools and toolboxes. He happily described his work tools as a car, calculator, map, and cigarettes, He was a self employed counselor who saw people in their homes.

That’s when I first started thinking about my own tools. At the time, mine were an umbrella (I like having a plan B), appointment book with phone numbers, also a calculator, car, and maps. (I too was a counselor who saw people in their homes). I also threw in my three “C’s”—caring, creativity and competence--because I’ve always believed that combination is what makes me and anybody else extra good at their work.

I’ve since eliminated maps and umbrellas and added a notepad and pen, books on writing, a cell phone, and fruit when I travel, My appointment book and calculator are still high on my list.

I like the idea of specialized toolboxes. A few years ago I trained Insurance Specialists and included a presentation where I handed out pictures of a toolbox and together we filled it with the skills and tools they needed for their jobs. It was an easy concept and well received. I think that’s because there’s not a situation or circumstance in life where tools of some kind or another are either necessary or helpful to have around.

It took me less than an hour to pack my vacation toolbox. This is one time that I decide who I want to be and pack accordingly. I’ve been fairly consistent over the years: always the candle, watercolors I only use once or twice a year, a generous supply of books I may or may not read. Sometimes I’ve packed interesting ideas or projects that have languished in the regular course of life, but that is not necessary this summer.

JB has packed her own tools: books on collage, art paper and materials, a scrapbook, a small vinyl 60-‘s flowered note book with little compartments for filing papers, her new nano ipod. And today we’ve added our version of “food tools”: 4 chocolate macaroons and 2 two pound lobsters.

My vacation toolbox is overstocked with more than I need or could ever get to in the 7 days we are here. But there’s a comfort in knowing how I am caring for myself. I like that I have packed choices that encourage my mind to let go and move out of the way so I can spontaneously dabble and play.

Planning in advance like this is not something I normally do. Usually I follow the demands and opportunities of daily life, doing my best to carve in personal time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But when I’m vacationing, I am able to pause, step back, and see all the stress I’ve been lugging around--and that weight doesn’t disappear just because the chores of life are temporarily suspended. It takes me a good week to untie that knot: when I’ve been lucky enough to have two weeks of uninterrupted vacation, the second week is often sheer joy.

Vacations allow me to change the rhythm of time, more to my own liking and to my own pace. But that doesn’t happen all at once.

It’s the end of our first day and I’d say JB and I are doing pretty well: we’ve swum 2 times in the little lake a footpath away. We’ve bought our favorite foods for the week, we shared a double lobster roll at a cozy little café,we gallivanted by car a little along Route 302, and we took our sweet shelter dog Stella for three walks--all three of us still thrilled that yesterday, despite her advancing age, injured spine, and/or lack of experience, she mastered stairs for the first time.

Tonight we had our two pound lobsters for dinner. Now I am writing, JB is reading, Stella is sleeping. Cheryl Wheeler is singing a song about New England in the background. We know that we will wake up tomorrow morning whenever we want, forego our underwear (all week!) for bathing suits, eat cinnamon bread and lowfat yogurt with fresh fruit and granola for breakfast out on the deck, poke around this three-street little lakeside community where Stella can prance off her leash, and most likely have our first swim by 10 am. If this sounds stress-free, of course it is. But it also isn’t, not yet.

It takes my mind a little time to let go. As that happens, thankfully, I will become more anchored in the present moment, less connected to the past, and less worried about the future. Virginia Woolf called these “streams of consciousness” moments. For me they’re rare glimpses into the life I would have—could have—do have--if—when I live full and real. Of course I’d rather be swimming on steamy hot days than shopping for groceries or putting in time at work, but whatever I’m doing, when I accept and stay with whatever is in front of me, I move more and think less. That sounds so new-age, but living this way is actually an increasing quandrum in modern life. I know I’m absolutely, positively not alone in acknowledging that it is remarkably, surprisingly, shockingly difficult to live in the moment. That could perhaps be a minor problem instead of a major one if it weren’t true that I only exist in this moment. I can only be-here-now. I can only do what I do and not do what I don’t do. Vacation helps me understand this. It turns the volume down and that helps my five senses more easily experience the world. “Time off” helps immensely, but I think the rhythm comes back mostly because I decide how I want it to be. I outlined the bones of that decision when I packed my vacation toolbox.

There is no TV here. No internet service. No washer/dryer. If history proves true, I know already that by the end of the week I will have added another tool in my toolbox: a new timepiece that moves as slowly and consciously as I want it to. It will be in rhythm with my body, and it will quiet my mind. It will help me move through space with greater ease.

I also know that once I return home to western Massachusetts and the land of vacuum cleaners and unpaid bills, my new timepiece will run down and acquiesce to action and activity.

And then comes the really hard part--I know this because I’ve been there before: I will be overwhelmed by the chores and demands that have waited for me. My stress will expand and my capacity to handle it will constrict. But I will also find myself at a junction where I can make a clean choice. I can’t change my circumstance and chores, but thanks to a relaxing vacation, I’ve had the chance to get reacquainted with my favorite self--with my natural self. I definitely overstocked my vacation toolbox, as usual, but it worked great. I pulled out the paints, read some books, wrote as I wished. And I swam in the cool water and hot air first and last thing everyday. I’m arriving home in balance. But I know this too: very soon my day-to-day circumstance and chores will overtake me, especially if I don’t take some thoughtful measure against them.

If I were to add some protective “life-tools” to my toolbox, what they would look like? What I would use them for? What maintenance would they require?

I wonder what it will take to restock my toolbox next week, and the week after that, and after that, with tools that will chisel away stress, sculpt support, provide anchors. Tools that will help me be and stay myself and keep me centered in some core way when the world around me goes to hell and back. I’m wonder what a specially made “kj tool” would look and feel like. Maybe it would cut away unnecessary weeds, prune back overwhelming expectations, drill though bullshit, ring an alarm when I’m at risk of going overboard. Maybe I could order the smaller size—the one with a compass attached, so it could fit in my pocket and I could take it everywhere.

If my kj tool had multiple parts, I could take my time and read the instruction book. If it were very costly, I could put it on layaway. If it were fragile, I could treat it with great care and protection. If it were very heavy or needed batteries, I could conserve it for special occasions. Maybe I could come to count on it to find my way and stay there.

A lot of life tools are already in place for me these days. And yet, my footing slip-slides too easily. I can’t imagine what it would be like to feel solid, centered, secure, for longer than vacations and stream of consciousness moments. I can’t swim 2 or 3 times a day in my non-vacation life, but I can see the sunset, smell the garden basil, touch the soil, hear my daughter’s voice, feel the warmth of friendship.

I want at least some of my vacation tools to become life tools. I want to know that my toolbox will cover most occasions. Then I can more confidently live my interesting life. My week at Sebago Lake guides me to who I am when I live like this. I want to be this Me. Here. Now.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bed and the Battlefield

Well, I'm sad, unhappy, disillusioned, disappointed, confused (etc etc) about the current state of the state and the shaky state of the world. How can it take so many centuries to figure out a different way to fight?

So here's my free thinking on the matter, written over a few installments:

Bed and the Battlefield

This I said
Could be my bed
If only my head
Could sleep instead.
But now I fret—
A large regret,
A presidential foolish bet
Several packs of cigarettes
Stored inside a dresser drawer
Guy-swagger in a sad sad war
Where hearts are bent and limbs so sore
I ask for less but hope for more
I wash my face,
Watch the chase,
Then take my place
And pray for grace.

I watch the news
When I should snooze
Stunned and bummed
By cities mummed
And homes in ruin,
What’s this guy doing
To lead like this:
A colossal miss
Of international
Non factional
And coolly rational
Peace among
The tested ones.
What's it take
to stop the guns?
It could be done
And in its place
A different face
With undue haste
a truce with grace,
a resting place.

I’ll go to bed
Tonight instead
And in the dawn
I’ll come along
Barely strong
But courage long
For steps for peace
A war at cease
An honest crease
For those the least.

And for those the more,
An open door
At its core
To change the future