on letting go

I do a lot of long, epic car rides across the country, alone, several 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. 

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 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 picked it up. 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.

on being replenished

I have a strong sense of home, which, I think, helps me face the world, move to new cities alone, earn degrees, travel, take (measured) risks, etc. The last few months have been emotionally grueling for me, but I am home now and finally feel like I can really take a deep breath. Suddenly, my priorities come into focus.

Photo: vetch

vetch growing wild in the hay fields

Here there is gathering eggs, checking the under ripe fruit, sitting in the yard under a shade tree reading a Laura Ingalls Wilder book I found, Ginger, Jackson, and the cat, the mock orange, wild roses and yellow and joseph’s coat homestead roses in bloom, the new kind of yellow bird that’s made a nest in the front yard, pelicans, baby cones at Little Bear (C-zers soon to follow), the Subaru loaded down with bailing twine, everyone going 5 miles per hour under the speed limit, long walks down gravel roads, long conversations that last all morning and then go late into the night, fresh lettuce out of the garden, eating raspberries off the bush, running to Food Town for junk food I wouldn’t normally eat, having real dirt come off my hands when I wash them, kiddie pools, popsicles, sheep grazing in pastures, one late calf bawling for its mother, gardens growing so fast you can almost see it, knitting up skeins and skeins of yarn, planning the next batch of soap with Mom, making raspberry jam, knowing everyone I see, trading stories of new babies, divorces, car wrecks, illness, and wedding engagements, people dusting off their saddles for rodeo, the linear pattern of cut hay, geometric bales, the breeze, the sun, the temperature—everything I know so well.

on the verge

Everything’s changing. Any day now. It could be tomorrow. It could be next week. The semester will be over. My closest person in the world will be on the road, which is both wonderful and heartwrenching, and I have the sense that I’m standing on the end of a precipice–ready to jump (in a good way).

The past few months have been difficult. I’ve battled a nagging fear, a nagging sorrow. But I also know myself and knew things would change. I would feel better eventually. In part, that time has come. The summer break provides a well-timed reprieve. As I’ve started to imagine that break, I imagine travel, spending time with my family, music, writing, and, perhaps most surprisingly, ideas for visual art.

I have a renewed sense of hope and purpose. Things seem different. They feel different. And, I’m excited about this next new era. I think it will be about the art I had a difficult time making in the last few years, and that’s something to get excited about.

on love, loss, and doula work

For the past few years, I’ve been in love. Deep, deep satisfying, fulfilling, earthshaking love. And I am incredibly grateful for that love. Now, despite the changing nature of that relationship, I’m still in love. He still feels like home to me. I crave the reboot I get from his energy, the sense of feeling balanced again when I am around him. Recently, my intuitive massage therapist wisely told me that I couldn’t control whom I loved. This same deep love I feel could go on for months or even years. Hearing this was somewhat of a relief. It meant I could just be. Live. Take care of myself. Pursue my interests. I didn’t have to fight the love. I didn’t have to rip off the band aid, so to speak. I could just continue to love and that would be fine.

Despite that realization, I have had an emotionally tumultuous few months. The overflowing of love and care that I’ve grown used to over the past few years is waning/changing. As a result, doula work has been incredibly challenging. Previously, once every other month or so, I could sit with a laboring mother for twelve or more hours with plenty of love to give. In fact, I was overflowing with all of the love I was receiving from home. Now, there is no overflow. In fact, it feels like work just to maintain a minimum. Loving energy is definitely not overflowing out of me like it once was. As a result, I have less to give as a doula.

This is a natural ebb and flow of life. Sometimes love is in abundance. Sometimes it is not. I’m realizing that working as a doula through trauma and loss is incredibly difficult. So, I’m backing off the doula work for the next few months. That happens to coincide nicely with some traveling I’ll be doing anyway. I hope to return later in the summer with more energy and more love give to the work.

My intuitive friend also said that soon I will feel recharged and ready to do the work. I know it will be different. Recharging after working a long shift will now take a few days now, whereas before I could recover in a few hours by just be held and hugged by my guy. I used to worry that I wouldn’t be able to do the work again–I was finished. Now, I’m less dramatic, and I realize that I will do the work again, and I will love the work again, and it’s okay if it is not right this second.

a fount of words

I am a fountain of words. Lately, I’ve not been able to stop talking. And sharing. On the phone. Over coffee at breakfast. Texting. I have so much to share. Right now, I know I’m making more social plans than I’ll want to keep, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes.

I had a week+ away from work. Most of that time was spent grading, prepping for summer school, and daydreaming while sipping white ambrosia tea in a coffee shop. A lot of my time was also spent in decadent conversation. The next two months (less than that, really) will be a bit of a grind. Summer school is always intense. But it’s also laid back and warm and friendly with more conversations to be had while sitting in circles.

I’m looking forward to it.

one little bird

Graduate school in Bellingham was a completely transformative time for me. I lived in a funky old hospital that had been converted into apartments. The town is old, and I lived in an old part, traipsing over wet sidewalks, over perpetually drowning earthworms, and slugs steadily on their way to eat whatever was left to rot in the garden.

In the rain and humidity, my hair turned into a giant mane of curls and frizz. I felt pale and soft and beautiful the entire time I lived here. I was heartbroken when I arrived and began teaching warily, badly, and writing, and reading, and saying something in class, and getting criticized, and being too brash, and being too quiet.

There were parties and there were coffee shops. There was the discovery of so many books and movies. A new world opened up to me. There were long walks along the bay. There were murdered bodies lapping up against the shoreline. I made my best friend there.

In school, there was a grand sense that we were doing something important with our work. In fact, I would say that an unusually high percentage of the people from that group continue to write. Continue to publish.

During my next graduate experience, the one that was not about art, the one that was more about getting a job, I met a new masters student who was strange and wonderful, possessing just the kind of smarts and weird that creates something new entirely. She was generous and reached out to me and others in small and unique says. Once, as an unexpected gift, she gave me a small wooden set of salt and pepper shakers in the shape of Oregon, my home state. To this day, I keep them in my office at work to remember. She reminded me of me and of Bellingham and  of the creativity and energy that we created there. She reminded me of art and ideas in ways that I had forgotten.

Yesterday, I found out that she is dead. I cannot say that I am surprised, because she sometimes seemed too great for all of this, but I am saddened by what the world is now lacking.

on love and loneliness

I grew up near Osho’s commune, where some pretty crazy stuff unfolded, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have some wisdom.* Of course, I might also be biased because I absolutely love being alone, so I am naturally drawn to having my ego stroked by quotes like this that indicate that I must really, really love myself ;)

Photo: Words of wisdom from Osho.

*Source not confirmed.

on ghosts and spirits

This morning the freeway was completely shut down, and we were shuttled off and then back on. In passing, there was a small, snub-nosed truck bashed in and a semi-trailer askew in the road. Glass was shattered, and there might’ve been blood. We craned and craned our necks to see.

The other day, I waited in the front room of someone’s house, in the eerie morning calm, a woman’s voice came from somewhere in the most lovely, high Om. “She’s singing,” I thought. Later, we heard it again together, and she had not heard it before, and she had not been singing.

Once, my dying refrigerator let out a sigh so endearing, so piteous, so surprised to find itself in that kind of pain, that I quickly fell into a kind of mother’s love. When the motor moaned it’s last, sick “Ohhhh,” I placed my hand on it’s freezer and said goodbye.

In a windowless room, my lips dry, I stand at the threshold between this world and whatever red, watery one slowly emerged before it. Each baby is barely a thing, and suddenly you start seeing spirits everywhere.

the business side of things

It feels like I’ve ran around in circles figuring out the business side of things for my doula work. It’s hard, it’s a new language, but it gets easier. So far, I’ve worked as a doula on a very limited basis. To an extent, that will continue to be the case for me. I have a “day job” that I love, and that’s priority number one. Fortunately, my day job also allows me to comfortably take clients during certain times of the year. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many opportunities I’ve had to work as a doula, during times that work for me personally, and how quickly and positively the referrals have been flowing in. It’s truly humbling!

It makes sense that I continue to maintain a modest doula business–even if it sometimes feels like more of a hobby than a job–because in my day job I’m beginning to do more scholarship on doula work. Also, I work as a volunteer doula for women who otherwise would not be able to afford a doula, and while that has allowed me to gain a lot of experience with really varied birth situations, the scope of working as a volunteer doula is also limiting in many ways.

Though I’ll admit I’ve had some doubts and fears, this work has come together for me in a way that makes me feel like it is meant to be. It’s similar to my work as a yoga instructor, and similar to my work in the writing classroom. Working as a doula is part of who I am. This is where I’m supposed to be.

Here are a few blog posts that are really helpful for setting up a shop and specific to doula work, all written by Andrea Lythgoe: