Monday, October 25, 2010

making space for the words

I used to keep journals before I became a word processor. I used to process my words with a pencil or pen and a beautiful little book on my bedside table. I’d write long, self-reflective entries on my dreams or my boyfriends or my kids. And I put them on a shelf for posterity.

Now I write a blog and enjoy the way it seeps out into the world and then comes back to me. It’s not as private, true. There are topics I won’t go into here that could be written in a personal journal, tucked away in my nightstand. But, there’s a beauty in writing for an audience that motivates me. That even makes me think of myself as a writer. I mean, A Writer. Maybe it’s my exhibitionist side (you didn’t know that about me, did you?). Or maybe it’s leftover from girlhood when I hated keeping secrets. I know that at this point in my life writing is one of my true loves and a craft I intend to hone and delve into and savor.

[I heard today that every day 81,000 new blogs appear on the internet. Sheesh. I’m trying not to feel like a needle in a haystack. I’m trying not to feel like I’m in junior high again, hoping to be in the “in crowd.”]

Regardless, now I journal on my blog and you, Dear Reader, may choose to read or move on.

Finding time to write, in fact, finding time to do anything on my “me” list is a challenge. But part of the challenge these days is a general lack of schedule or the willpower to abide by such. Other than things I need to get the kids to (the JC, 4H meetings, Park Day, Science class, Hebrew school, etc.) there aren't a lot of things I need to get myself to. And few, if any, of these things are in the early hours of the day. So I awake with Mark (who has to be at work somewhere around 8 or 8:30) and mosey on over to the computer to check email or read one of the 30 trillion blogs I love to follow. And eventually, far too late in the morning, I get downstairs and down to the pasture to feed my equines. When I get back up to the house a half hour later I wake the boys up. It's usually about 9:30 but sometimes it's 10 and then we really have to hustle to do our 15 minute tidy of one room of the house, have breakfast, other chores, pack a lunch (as if), and get going for the day. Or, on the days when they have no specific plans away from the house...then we fritter the time away. We do? Oh yes. We Fritter.

Would that I had the self-discipline to arise in the wee hours of the morn to write. Would that I had the self-discipline to walk right by the door to the office and go down the stairs in the half-light to feed the animals out in the muddy (right now) or dusty (last week) pasture. Just this one bit of self-control (don’t touch the keyboard, don’t check to see what emails came in overnight, don't sit down to read other people's blogs) would give me hours to write, to contemplate, to meditate before the boys got up. So, the truth is that if I prioritized my daily chores, and reminded myself that throwing down hay in the cold morning air is a task I do for myself, not drudgery, if I convinced myself that I have a job that actually starts every morning at 6 am rather than 9, I might actually have more peace, more me for me and more words to share with you.

I like this idea immensely. But then when the alarm goes off (we haven’t used an alarm except sporadically since all three boys started homeschooling five years ago) at 6 o'clock try to motivate me to jump out of bed. Sure, the first time, ok. But daily? I just don’t know. That is a challenge. A sacrifice. With my perimenopause insomnia, my nightowlishness, my late hour time wasting, 7 am is a tough hour at which to arise let alone 6.

Excuses aside though, I’m willing to give it a go.

Tomorrow I will rise in the dark, don my muddy jeans, wool socks, thermal tee, navy blue watch cap I knitted for my dad last year (and inherited on August 26th, the day after he died), flannel barn jacket, rainboots, and nitrile gloves. I'll stumble right by the warm office and trudge downstairs to collect from the fridge the ground flax seed and iodized salt and vitamin E supplements already measured out for the critters. I will step carefully down the sodden hill to the hay barn and be greeted by the squeaks and wuffles of my donkeys and horses. And when I'm done I'll get to come back inside to a warm cup of tea, a piece of toast, and my words waiting for crafting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

it's a journey, that's all i know

first view of tomales bay
taken with my iphone's awesome hipstamatic app

Sunday was drizzly as I returned, nourished, from our synagogue's Women's Retreat. Thirty hours with just us girls, singing, talking, praying, eating, laughing, and crying together. I gave and I received. And in the end enjoyed the journey so much.

The retreat is held bi-yearly at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, a small town known for its oysters on Tomales Bay. It's not far from where I live and I love that: getting away is so easy, just a 45 minute drive through the countryside and *poof* I'm in another world.

Well, ok, so the world isn't actually so terribly different from where I live, but there are no children to homeschool, no chores to do, no manure to pick up. A lot more estrogen and a lot less testosterone!

My life of late has been swirling around me, approaching a level of frenzy that I hadn't forseen. With Harry attending the JC, ballroom dancing, working at the synagogue, and practicing meditation at Spirit Rock in Marin, Mark and I barely see each other as we're driving him back and forth, picking him up or waiting for him in all those locations four nights a week. (He just got his driver's permit and began behind the wheel driving lessons this morning, but really, I'm not so excited about that anyways.) Add to that our blossoming homeschool group with weekly park days and teen and tween events. And then there's our new science class at Magi's house every couple weeks. And 4H get the picture.

I've been trying to plan my father's memorial as well. And there just hasn't been much time.

Time. Lack of time. It's a recurring theme for me, have you noticed? It's not that I don't want to take the time for myself, nor is it a lack on Mark's part of trying to give me some space to do the things I need and want to do. It's just that I have a lot on my plate...a lot to accomplish...a lot of "to do's" to do. And maybe I'm not the best at prioritizing.

So, this weekend I prioritized. I put me at the top of my list. I put me up front and center. And the result was wonderful.

I helped lead services with music. Jewish music is one of my passions and I've been a songleader for years. This was my second time leading the retreat services and it was the best. Singing with women's voices, sharing new beautiful and meaningful music, praying while singing, singing to pray...all of that moves me like nothing else.

The Torah portion for this week was Lech L' which God speaks to Avram (not yet Abraham) and tells him He will lead him forward on a journey to a land he does not yet know (basically, "Avram, bubbeleh, trust Me! I'm the One and Only. Enough with the idols!"). Hence the theme of the weekend was journeys.

Now that is something that really resonated with me. My father's recent death, Ben's medical trials, recent hubbub in one of my homeschool communities, being a mother, entering menopause...all of this is a journey. I am constantly looking within and trying to find the right path, the right words, what is true for me. I feel like I live authentically and my life is full of blessings, but of late it has been hard to find myself in all my life swirling around me.

So, during the workshop periods on Saturday I went off by myself. I gave myself permission to not be social and to just be with my number one priority: ME.

First, I walked the amazing labyrinth created by Margo and Marcia from our congregation. Margo spoke about the journey and the symbolism of the labyrith at the Friday night service.
 from ...a single-path (unicursal) labyrinth has only a single, non-branching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back and is not designed to be difficult to navigate.
I did a meditative walk through the labyrinth, breathing in and out consciously with each step, repeating to myself: Breathe in, breathe out, step, step, step. I meditated on each footfall, I meditated on my breath. And when I got to the center I realized a few powerful metaphors about the labyrinth, namely:
  • as you walk the path to the center you pass by all that you have already walked and all that you have yet to walk
  • you enter the same way you exit
  • from the center you can see the whole journey, beginning to end
  • going in my eyes were on the ground, the path, and going out my eyes went up, to the sky...I trusted that I could find my way more going out
It was a powerful experience. I loved the quiet there in the field, the simplicity of the path of pinecones, the sounds of ravens and the wind in the pines. I learned a lot and felt myself relaxing and opening up.

I also sat and sketched this scene through the trees, of the fishing boats on the quiet bay.

After lunch, I gathered several layers (it had gotten quiet cold, a real sense of winter approaching), my brand new watercolors, my watercolor paper, my pencil case, my iPhone for music, and a large and small jar of water for drinking and painting. I didn't know what I was going to do exactly, but I knew there was something that wanted to come forth. I wandered the hills of the conference center for a bit and found a quiet bench looking out over the bay, looking away from the activity buildings, so I knew I would not get distracted.

I set my materials up and bundled up myself, turned my iPhone onto a loop of Craig Taubman music and opened up my art supplies.

It didn't take long before I'd written "me" in the center and started to mind map, asking myself over and over: Who am I? Mind mapping is a great process, one I've used many times to find clarity. I have a book I love called Mapping Inner Space that has been an inspiration for this type of process. It's verbal and artistic, emotional, psychological and very creative. I used it years ago when I was struggling with the idea of bringing Toby and Ben home to homeschool them, too, and it really helped bring clarity to the situation.
So, when I began the process on that quiet, cold hillside, I knew it was just what I needed. But I kept getting caught up in the words. Mother, daughter, sister, friend, wife...all those words seemed to define me from the perspective of how I related to someone else. "Who am I at my CORE?" I kept asking myself. And then I started listing words, turned off the editor, and finally found them:

caregiver  leader  creator  sharer  partner 
do-er  teacher  giver  lover

These words started to make sense to me. For a long time I drew pictures, painted colors, and wrote more words to help the meaning surface. And then, near the end of my available time, I realized I needed to include my dark side...the side that worries and fears the worst. So I added "pessimist" under a dark cloud, and I felt that the work was more complete.

Here it is:

I have shown it to many friends, the women at the retreat, and my homeschool moms. Many people are loving it, but one thing they don't get is that it's not a work of art for me. It's a process. A piece, not a whole. Not even complete. Just like I am...a work in progress. I realized yesterday while talking to my friend Mindy at the park, that I'd left out a big piece: questioner, I might call it, but it will hold the ideas of faith, spirituality, Jew, God or no God, the universe and beyond. It amazes me that on the retreat I could have left out that part...but maybe I just didn't even have the space, the emotional space, to start looking deeper into that right then. Who knows?

It's all a journey. That's all I know.

A friend of mine, G, has posted a picture of her "self-portrait". I urge you to check it out and then go make your own!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

letting go

Today I, after feeding the equines, I sat on my deck in the cool of the morning and meditated.

My mind refused to be silenced. Though I repeated, "Breathe in. Breathe out," it would not quiet down. Thoughts of conflicts, of my to do list, of the rest of the day, judgments about myself and others, even what I would write about it eventually buzzed in my skull.

"Let it go," I suggested.

"BE QUIET," I ordered.

And still there was only noise.

I sent blessings of well being to my friends and my family. I blessed myself. I breathed in. I breathed out.

All through me ran a stream of unhappiness, of judgment and of inertia.

And then I decided that all of that, all that negativity was a choice I was making. (I've been reading Sylvia Bornstein's "Happiness is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life.") And wasn't it the most self-indulgent kind of choice? So, instead I chose to let it all go, to enjoy what I have, to lighten my load.

After 20 minutes of struggle I finally felt at peace. I opened my eyes, breathed in deeply and hung some laundry on the line.