on holiday shopping-inspired humiliations

I like to do my Christmas shopping before heading home for the holidays. The selection is pretty limited where I’m from, so I try to get things that are a little different than whatever the local Wal-Mart might have. I also really like to have everything wrapped and ready to go because I love seeing the excitement on my nephew’s face as we unload the presents and put them under the tree. I hope it’s at least a fraction of the thrill I felt each year when Grandma brought out her presents.

This year, I’m not decorating my own home for Christmas. I might just eat some of those Hershey’s candy cane kisses and call it a day. In general, I’m not much of a homemaker. I think that’s mostly because I’ve never had much of a home. In the past two years, I found that I really loved putting up Christmas lights, threading popcorn on a string, and decorating a little tree, but that was because I was sharing it with someone. As it turns out, ritual is better when you have someone to share it with.

Which brings me to my point, which is that for me, sharing rituals is the most intimate and humiliating part of relationships. Nothing feels better than reaching a point where participating in ritual with someone feels safe. But later, when the relationship is over, I always feel deep humiliation about the whole thing.

I think it’s because my rituals are sacred to me. My family home, and returning there throughout the year, is sacred to me. There is land and space and wonderful people who listen when you talk. There is peace and quiet to read books and have long conversations that last all morning. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time there, and it’s something I hold sacred and private. And, it’s all very humiliating when someone sees the ritual and experiences it for a little while, and then chooses something else. Oh, God. Nothing’s worse.

one year ago

one year ago

i do rush home

I rush home to play the piano. (Well, keyboard.) I listen to songs on the radio and try to figure them out while driving. I fill out all of the exercises in my lesson book just for the joy of it.

My mom’s pretty competent at the piano, but has always wanted to play the violin. She started taking lessons this summer and absolutely loved it. I, on the other hand, have always wanted to play the piano. I took lessons when I was very young, but they were short-lived.

This summer, my mom inspired me with her violin lessons. She kept saying things like, “I just love it,” and “It’s so great.” It’s probably the English major in me, but I’m always prompting her to explain what she means. “What’s great about it?” She couldn’t quite explain. Now, neither can I.

I found a teacher who lives nearby and signed up for lessons this fall. I immediately loved it and, like my mom, find myself sort of inarticulate about it: “It’s the best thing ever,” and “It’s just so great.” At first I really loved the forced meditation. Music requires your entire brain, and when I’m concentrating, there is no room for chatter. There is no room for anything else, and it is divine.

One of the things I miss from my last relationship is music. I miss singing (though I am shy!) and I miss hearing the new song and the song that’s dedicated to me. So, I’ve tried to create that for myself. I’ve been surprised by how quickly I’ve been able to move through the lesson book and how satisfying it is to play.

I’ve always felt drawn the to piano. I have always wanted to be able to play. I love the sound of the piano. I’m also really fast at typing (and I think that actually helps.)

I don’t know what else to say. See how rambling and incoherent I am about it? Other than just “YES! I am doing it! And it is so great!”

morning scene

morning scene

good cheer

I know someone who is always smiling and so, so cheerful–in a way that makes you know she suffers deeply. When the dance class barges in, throws on the blinding florescent lights, and breaks up savasana after my yoga class each week, I wear the same friendly perma-grin at them.

If my writing in the last year has seemed sort of hopeful/melancholy/eerily sober it’s because I’m trying. 2014 has probably been the worst year of my life, which is really great because I’m alive! and physically healthy! and I’m totally fine! Still, there are days when I’m still “keeping it together,” and “putting one foot in front of another,” and “monitoring the situation.” I write about love and gratitude because, truthfully, they’ve required more effort this year.

2012 was one of the best years of my life. I was falling in love again, and by the end of the year I was in deep. I earned my highest degree and got a piece of paper to prove it. I went on the job market and found a great job in a great place. I moved to a new city and in with my new love and spent my time rushing home from work to be with him. Life was good then. Undeniably richer, smarter, funnier.

This semester I’ve started to work later and later. I was there until after 10pm one night working on a big project. Previously, that would have never happened. While it is now bittersweet to find myself working late, and then staying a little later to miss the rush hour, in no real hurry to get home, I am grateful for that beautiful time when I was in love and my priority was, every day, being near him. It was a really lovely way to be in the world.

This is a lovely way to be in the world too.

fall flower

fall flower

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.