thank you, thank you, I love

I was going to do an “I love” post because I love. Now it’s the month for giving thanks. The other day, a yoga teacher sang a very lovely, open-throated, thank you song in savasana. She massaged our feet between poses. She sang, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you body. Thank you mind. Thank you spirit. Thank you yoga. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” And so on. Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I’ve had tears in yoga a lot these days. Thank you yoga.

And so here is my list of loves:

My day job. My students. The people I work with. The way I feel on my way to work. My cozy office. The scholarship I do there. I just wrote this lovely, difficult, and very good proposal for a thing, and felt like I was doing something difficult and good in this world.

My home. The way I feel when I wake up in the morning. The new incense and the new candle and the back patio and the zucchini plant, all of the indoor plants. They are living, and I keep them that way. The fresh bouquet of lilies and the warm mug in my hands as I pad around in my slippers.

My piano lessons. My keyboard. Reading notes. The difficulty. The ease. The meditation. Losing time to it.

Conversations on the phone. My parents. Their (accidentally?) brilliant advice. Texting with friends. Putting my hands up as I jump to live music, and the people who will go there with me.

Weirdly accurate intuition. The snake that rode down the trail on the shoulder of its owner. The elaborate tattoo on the little boy’s arm. The keen matchmaking.

Yoga. Teaching yoga. My yoga students. Allowing myself to take the energy that they offer me when needed.

Doula work. Doula people. There is some kind of secret magic with these people that is unfolding before me. The laying on of hands.

My love. The love.

witchy

It started with the doula work, or maybe the yoga. Actually, it was probably much earlier in reading and solitude. Or, maybe it started with my mother, and grandmother, and great grandmother—as far back as I can remember. Lavender, roses, crystals, plums, fire.

photo credit unavailable

photo credit unavailable (but found here.) 

Recently, I got the best haircut I’ve had in years. I found the woman by happenchance. When she found out that I was a doula, she said, “That’s weird. All of the doulas come to me.” Evidently, without knowing about each other, we all routinely find our way to her chair to get our hair cut. We know of each other in the doula community, but none of us came to her aware of this doula connection. It’s sort of witchy, we agree.

There are other things. Small things. Music. Poetry. Submission. Yoga. There is aloneness that forces the issue.

Coeur De Lion by Ariana Reines

One of those things went around Facebook asking people to list the top ten most influential books they’ve ever read, and several writer-friends mentioned Coeur De Lion by Ariana Reines. So, I got it, and read it in a few hours late one morning (which, coupled with a cup of tea, felt amazingly indulgent, by the way).

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

The book is erotic and smart, and gives the impression of effortlessness. Like when the untrained eye looks at a piece of abstract expressionism and says, “hey, I could do that!” In so many ways, it feels like the emotional frenzied jotting down of ideas that happens thoughtlessly in a bedside journal. But there is such an attention to sound, such perfection throughout, it is clear the effortlessness is no accident. Here, for example: “She has curly hair like me, but in this jpeg it looks like she puts more emollients in hers.” While it may sound very conversational, the sound and rhythm are just beyond.

Here are a few other lines I liked in the order that they appear:

“You wrote exultant
Emails to your girl, something
About, like, the bliss of satiating
Yourself inside her, etc.”

“She is sexually terrifying. Her elegance
And intelligence dignify the insanity so
Much I forget not to be charmed”

“The melancholic
Loses the object of desire while the object
Is still there.”
(Reines paraphrasing Zizek paraphrasing Freud)

“It’s been so easy for you
To disengage yourself from your
Behavior, as though you really
Were conjectural, as though
Your desire really were as limitless
And general as the fucking internet.”

That last one was worth the wait, wasn’t it? Anyway, go now. Read the book.

healing work

I am finally healed. My cracked tooth, the one that sent me to a French hospital in Paris years ago, doesn’t hurt when I bite into these chewy dried mango slices. There is no telltale ache in the wrist that’s been giving me trouble. I walked into the house from doula work feeling energized. I lit candles. I started a stick of incense. I began to read. I began to write.

Honestly, I was hoping I wouldn’t get called in today. I wanted to let my wrist heal. I wanted to get some work done. But, I felt some light cramping in my lower stomach and suspected that I might get the call, and I did hear from the midwife around mid-morning.

Last spring I wrote about how suddenly doula work had become difficult and that I felt less capable of recovery afterwards. After today, I am relieved to feel like that period is finally over. Today’s doula work left me feeling renewed and recharged, physically healed even. It is so profoundly inspiring to see women succeed in their goal of having an unmedicated birth, even in a very long labor. I was once again impressed by how manageable these women make it seem. I mean, it also looks like the most difficult thing in the world, but also inexplicably very doable.

Today, amid applying counterpressure and offering sips of water and encouraging words, I looked around and saw that I was surrounded by five very smart, beautiful, and capable young women, their faces bright and their arms toned from yoga and long hours of counterpressure. These are my people, I thought. I also thought, we are all here at our point of arrival.

Seeing someone have their most intense experience, and then seeing them going beyond and deeper than anything they’ve ever conceived of before, is earthshaking. It can also be healing work for me, and today it was just that.

past the point of no return

Wouldn’t it be nice to know when it happens? The moment when everything has changed and you are new. I usually understand the moment in hindsight–months later, or often years. The point of no return is sometimes an idea introduced to me by other people. They will say something like, “You’ll never be the same/you can never go back after XYZ.” It happened in high school during my first trip to the east coast. I came back changed, confident, worldly (by my standards anyway). That kind of growth had never happened so rapidly for me before. My mom noticed it immediately. I remember she hugged me and held me at arms length and said, “Woah, you’ve changed!” And I felt that I had changed too.

People started talking about it during undergrad. There’s a point where you have a degree and socially you’re different now. I didn’t notice it until I had almost finished my undergraduate degree. Now, three degrees later, I don’t really notice it anymore. But as the shift was first happening, I started to feel it in my interactions with family and friends, and even in my interactions with cashiers and people who couldn’t possibly know that I was now “educated.” And yet, somehow, there was a distinct shift.

In yoga teacher trainings, my fellow instructors started talking about their “path” and how difficult it is to be with other people, loved ones, and spouses, who are not on a similar path. Later, I started to feel that I too was on a path of deeper growth and self-awareness than ever before. Yoga forced a kind of internal awareness and focus. When you’re in a difficult pose, stretching a tight muscle, there is nothing to do and nowhere go but to look inward. Yoga has put me on a path that has made me more sensitive to the environment, my energy, and my emotions.

A few years later, it happened again. People started saying, “You can never go home.” Sure I can, I thought, still planning my summer vacations back home with my family. Once, an artist painted my portrait and part of the theme was that you can never go home. In the picture, I am looking away from the valley. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then what used to be a safe haven became just a place to visit. Maybe someday, but for now living there seems increasing impossible on both a practical and psychological level. 

And so it goes with matters of the heart.

these clouds float by

the clouds float by

plum, flax, & walnut muffins

Evidently everyone else doesn’t have a plum thicket in their backyard and are in need of easy, tasty recipes for said plums because I cannot find enough plum recipes online. I, however, do have a plum thicket. Last year, I used most of them to make plum jam. I also made cobbler, plum/zucchini bread, and biscotti to name a few. I still have some in the freezer from last year.

Plums were not as abundant this year. Only two trees had plums, and they were only over the roof of the garage. I think they bloomed early, and some of the blooms were killed by frost, save for those that were above the warm roof of the garage. So, Z’s brother came over to help me pick them, and by that I mean that he climbed onto the roof and then pulled me up there too, where I promptly scraped up my knee, grabbed a few of the closest plums, and then shimmied back down. Fortunately, Z’s brother stayed up there and picked several bags of plums. They were not quite ripe, but I figured I should get them while I had the help.

plum, flax, and walnut muffins fresh out of the oven

plum, flax, and walnut muffins fresh out of the oven

I put the under ripe plums in a cardboard box in the basement and now, about five days later, they’re ripening really nicely. In fact, I ate one today while doing laundry down there.

Below is a recipe on my own, using what I had here at the house. I’d add bran or even more flax seeds in the future because I was looking for a really gritty breakfast muffin that’s not too sweet.

Plum, Flax, & Walnut Muffins
Preheat oven at 350. Mix together dryish ingredients. Mix wet ingredients separately. Then, combine the two. Lastly, fold in chunky ingredients. Spoon dough into muffin tin. I used muffin liners, but I think those are optional. Bake at 350 for 20 about minutes or until done. (Insert and remove toothpick. Muffins are done when the toothpick comes out clean.) Let cool for 15 min.

Dry ingredients:
1 cup gluten-free flour blend
¾ cup oats
shredded flax (2 heaping tablespoons)
flax seeds (2 heaping tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
½ teaspoon of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ cup of light brown sugar
lightly sprinkle ground ginger and ground cloves

Wet ingredients:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup almond milk
1+ egg

Chunky ingredients:
walnuts
plums

Enjoy!

The Room Lit by Roses by Carole Maso

Carole Maso is one of the few authors who I will read over and over again. Her work has a quality that just gives and gives each time I read it. Oddly, I haven’t even come close to reading all of her work. With the short time before work for the semester really starts in earnest, I decided to grab a few books to frantically and recklessly read before I got down to business. That has involved forsaking some exercise and sunlight to read while lounging in air-conditioned spaces–sometimes with a popsicle.

I grabbed a few new books from the New York Times Bestseller list along with Carole Maso’s The Room Lit by Roses. I began reading it after working a long shift as a doula. My wrist was sore (still not recovered from a bike wreck two months ago) and my body weary. I tossed by hospital clothes in the hamper and showered the hospital germs away and propped myself up in bed with pillows on my cool white feather down comforter (enter also swamp cooler and popsicle).

I was done thinking about childbirth and labor when I cracked the spine and for the first time realized the rest of the book’s title: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth. The universe clearly wants me to examine the issue more closely, so “here we go again,” I thought. I scarcely could put it down until it was finished about 24 hours later with the strong impulse to turn around and read it again, which I will not do right now.

Years ago, I read The American Woman in the Chinese Hat and read it again to prepare for my trip to France. I assume I’ll return to The Room Lit by Roses if I become pregnant or want to write more extensively on the topic. For now, I’m glad it exists and I’m glad I can return to it. What I love about Maso’s work is how real and raw and open she is. The ultimate sacrifice, I get the feeling that she splays herself open for us, dear reader, and for art and probably for world peace. Carole Maso is one of those authors for whom I am incredibly grateful.

Sometimes a line or two will be entirely dumb and petty and ugly, which works to magnify the stuff that is brilliant and important and beautiful. As I read her work, I find myself saying yes! That’s how it is. That’s how I feel! She wrote, “Always knew I wanted to have the experience of pregnancy.” I swear I say those exact words. The rest of it, the child, the life, that’s the part I’m not always sure about. But pregnancy and labor, yes. It’s such a bizarre and most intense human experience that is felt only a few times, or once, or never, so of course I’d like to have that. Maso puts into words how absolutely terrible and wonderful and necessary the experience can be, and I clung to each word.

round 3: knitting a baby blanket (with pattern!)

In the summer months, it’s harder to knit. It’s hot, and I don’t quite crave the cozy warmth of knitting by lamplight, my legs covered with whatever I happen to be knitting. However, there is still travel and downtime and conversations that stretch on through the long, light evenings that are conducive to good knitting.

My last blanket was intended for my cousin’s new baby boy. When I began his baby blanket, I did not realize that every other woman in my family also intended to make a baby blanket for him. Over the last few months, I’ve seen pictures posted via social media of the various baby blankets that have been sent for this little guy. I almost decided not to send mine because mine was such a mess. (I sent it anyway.)

front of the blanket

here you can see the unintended bunching around the border

I used smaller thread than I had ever used before and really enjoyed working with the finer material. Although it took a lot longer to knit up, it was actually more pleasant to work with than the chunky, bulky stuff that I’ve been learning on.

I used Loops & Threads Impeccable Big in Seaside Ombre. This was a big skein of yarn that stretched 582 yards. I was hoping to do the entire baby blanket in one skein, but it wasn’t quite enough, so I bought another small skein at the end (from a different lot number, no less!)

 

front of the blanket

front of the blanket (smooth surface)

I cast on 125 stitches.

After casting on, I knitted 16 more rows.

Then, I marked off the sides for a border, knitting 12 stitches. Then I purled for 101 stitches across the body of the blanket. I marked it there and knitted the remaining 12 stitches to complete the border on the other side.  For the entire body of the baby blanket, I did a regular knit stitch for the border and then alternated knitting and purling to create a smoother surface.

back of blanket

back of blanket (notice the difference in texture and border)

The blanket turned out to be stretchy and bouncy. As I was knitting, it was difficult to tell if the blanket was long enough because the borders were really bunched up. As a result, it is a little too wide and a little too short—more square-ish than the true rectangle I wanted it to be.

The yarn was a mix of dark blue, light blue, greens, grey, and cream. Using the variegated yarn created a more interesting visual texture to the blanket. The stripes, varied in color, looked thick on one side and thin on the other. Also, the small yarn, which calls for US 8 knitting needles, makes the border stand out much more prominently than it did with the bulkier yarn I’d been using on previous projects.

If I had to do it over again, I’d add another five inches or so. I end up needing to buy another skein of yarn to finish it. The new skein was only about 100 yards long, and I didn’t use it all because it was hard to tell if the blanket was long enough. In hindsight, I should’ve used it all. Now, I’m left with a blanket that’s just a little too short and a half a skein of yarn that I don’t know what to do with. I’d also use a different pattern for the border–one that doesn’t scrunch up the ends so much. In the end, I think the blanket will be durable, and because of it’s strange shape, will work well for a floor blanket for tummy time.

on letting go

I do a lot of long, epic car rides across several states, alone, a few times a year. It used to be the case that I would listen to books on tape. Those were good times. In recent years, I’ve moved to podcasts out of necessity. In the past I’ve written about this one podcast I love called “A Way to Garden.” It’s mostly people talking in really soothing voices about gardening, so yeah, sign me up.

I’ve also been a longtime listener of NPR, and This American Life is a favorite that I frequently miss. So, I always listen to those when I travel. During one of my recent trips, I listened to a show called “Show Me the Way,” which had a story about a boy who ran away from home and attempted to seek refuge with his favorite author, Piers Anthony.

A quote from Anthony toward the end struck me so much that I had to write it down, think more about it, and even share it with you. It was this:

One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all cost, or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.

Recently, a friend told Z that he wished Z could just learn to “let go.” Z liked the idea and tends to think of himself as too up tight. Though, I think it’s actually hard to know what’s normal stress, awkwardness, anxiety and what’s too much and needs to be “let go.” I’ve been both taken and troubled by the concept.

I’m sensitive to the idea because I tend to think Z might let go too much. I’m biased though because I’m one of the things he’s let go. But I’m not really. But also I kind of am. And so I can’t help but think, what’s so great about letting go? Maybe holding on could be right sometimes too.

I’m familiar with holding on, following through. Probably too familiar. This is a fault when it comes to things like cleaning out closets or recycling moving boxes, but it is also a strength when it comes to things like finishing a college degree.

But, I’m also taken with the concept because I like the sort of hippy idea of being completely free of constraints–free for adventure, free of stress, obligation, just me and a fast car on a desert highway to Somewhere Else. However, if you’re me, you also quickly learn about balance. For example, I like having time to myself (everyone knows this), but I also like having familial and rewarding work obligations. For example, I might be caught up in a task and maybe I don’t necessarily feel like taking my nephew to the pool one day, but the connection I get from being close to him and going to the pool anyway is always rewarding. I don’t want to let go of those obligations that bring a lot of meaning and satisfaction to my life just because sometimes it is also an obligation.

The Piers Anthony quote shed new light on the idea entirely. Because, you know, I think we do hold on to certain things. Some of it might be inevitable or unavoidable and that’s probably okay and beautiful too. It might help those of us who are uptight in some way, or our friends who are not uptight, understand that it might not always be a choice, and even if it is, it might be a completely reasonable and effective coping mechanism.

Tenth of December by George Saunders

I recently finished a collection of short stories by George Saunders called Tenth of December. I’ve never read Saunders before and didn’t intend to, but I saw the title in a favorite new and used bookstore and had to pick it up. I’ve always loved the bookstore. It used to be called Earth ‘N Book in La Grande, Oregon. Years ago, it changed hands, and I felt that it wasn’t quite what it used to be. However, I popped my head in on a recent visit to Oregon, and it drew me in—just like a good new and used bookstore (is there any other kind?) always does.

image from usatoday.com

image from usatoday.com

I scanned the new releases, and that’s when the title caught my attention: Tenth of December. You see, that’s a significant date for me. That’s the date that My Love was born. (Though for years I had it in my head that his birthday was on the seventh.) I picked it up and read some praise on the back cover. There was a conversation at the end with David Sedaris—a favorite! I decided to get it as a gift for Z, who would be visiting me in Oregon on his way through. (He is currently on a bike trek from Utah through the Northwest.) So, I bought the book, along with another great book called This is Not My Hat for my nephew. (That book encouraged a good four-year old-appropriate conversation on the ethics of stealing. Z pointed out that it also taught dramatic irony.)

Tenth of December starts with a short story called “Victory Lap,” which is absolutely stunning. It is hilarious and traumatic—something Saunders does very well. He also has a distinct and innovative voice, but doesn’t seem like he’s trying to hard—which means he was probably trying very, very hard. I know that seems so very nonspecific, so I’ll try to elaborate. Saunders does this thing where he integrates these informal aspects of text-speak and typing. So, for example, the “ha ha has” we get when we’re chatting or texting are integrated into his work in a profound and poetic, but (of course) understated way. There are a few good authors who are absolutely genius with their ability to make the colloquial profound (Raymond Carver is among them), and Saunders does that too. But, what’s most interesting, I think, is the way he integrates a really modern colloquial that is clearly influenced by the way changing and omnipresent technology evolves our language.

“Victory Lap” was probably my favorite piece. I also really appreciated “Puppy.” In my opinion, a few pieces were too dark and/or difficult for their payoff, but I am particularly sensitive to such things. As you, dear readers, may recall, I am making an effort to read mostly female authors for the time being. It’s difficult to describe why exactly, but suffice it to say that for my current creative endeavors, I want to have the voices of women in my head.

Despite that current constraint, I picked up and read Tenth of December as quickly as I could. When Z arrived in Oregon, I kept reading it for several days, trying to finish in case he wanted to take it with him on his bike trek. Though it was an emotional rollercoaster, I’m glad I read it. I’m also glad I’ve given it as a gift. I won’t mind that it is in someone else’s care for awhile.