Mother and Son

Yesterday, I woke up early in the morning and sat at the table across from my son, who was awake and eating breakfast. I had a lot on my mind about my future, of things I may keep and others I may have to give up, and tears came to my eyes.

He doesn’t usually see me this way: human, vulnerable, trying to figure things out. I’m fortunate that I have enough alone time away from my kids to process all that goes on in my life, so that when I’m with them, I can be fully present (or try to be) and focused on their needs. We dance, we eat, I command them to make their lunches and take out the trash. But on this morning I told him that I was a little confused, a little sad, unsure of what to do.

“Grown-ups aren’t perfect, you know,” I said. “I know I’m your mom, but I’m a person, too.”

He looked away and I saw that tears had come to his eyes, tears he didn’t want me to see. He has already learned, somehow, that he is not supposed to show his emotions. That he must keep them pushed down far and not let them surface. Perhaps he thinks it’s unmanly, that sensitivity is a burden we have to mask.

My son is 12 now, and life is so full, his birthday last month passed without me having time to process it. As we sat together, I remembered the final days of my pregnancy with him, my fear and anxiety about giving birth. The day he was due, I went to my garden and dug up weeds and planted new flowers. My stomach was huge, but my body still felt limber enough to move around. I was young, only 27. He was supposed to arrive any day, and I was expectant, excited. But days passed and there were no contractions, nothing showing he was on his way. Finally, one morning, after breakfast, I went into the kitchen and decided to talk to him. I didn’t know if he could hear me, or what he could understand. But I thought if I spoke to him from my heart he’d hopefully get the message.

“It’s time to come out, buddy,” I said. “You have all these people waiting for you, all these people loving you. We’re ready for you now.”

My child was so deeply wanted.

At the hospital a day later, after hours of contractions that didn’t progress toward delivery, my doctor began to give me options. A vacuum, forceps. Or I could have surgery to cut me open and pull him out.

I opted for the surgery right away. I didn’t want my child to experience any pain, especially as he entered into the world. I wanted him to have as easy a life as possible. I would carry whatever I could so that he wouldn’t have to go through trouble.

I know now that it’s impossible to protect your child from pain, because pain and anguish is a natural part of life. But I wanted my son’s life to be perfect. I was going to do everything right. The warm, comforting house. The mom and dad always at his side. Barbecues, parks, a backyard to play in. Siblings, bedtime stories.

And then real life happened, messy and surprising and raw. His father and I got divorced. We all left the house we loved and moved into two separate apartments. My son had to change schools. Now, in middle school, he has friends who aren’t always nice, who sometimes run away from him. He wakes up with a ball of anxiety in his stomach he can’t explain. He worries that he’ll never get a hit at his baseball game. And I’m sure there are worries about girls, about whether they like him or don’t. He doesn’t invite his friends over because we live in an apartment, and he doesn’t want to be different. He doesn’t think his mom is normal. He’s trying to figure out this life, what’s right and wrong, what everything means.

And I can’t fix everything, like I want to. I can’t make it all better. I can’t give him everything he wants, because I’m only human, and have struggles of my own. All I can do is love him as deeply as possible, and provide a place that is safe and nurturing, where he is encouraged to be himself. And I have to trust that what I have to give is good enough.

But despite all that has happened in his life, my son, my amazing boy, knows how to treat people. He knows right and wrong when it really matters. He has an inner compass that tells him what to do when times are tough, how to be. And sometimes that’s hard for him to carry, because he’s only a kid. But I can think of nothing more important in a person than an inner knowledge of how to treat people. And I can’t take credit for the fact that he has that. That came as part of his package, all on its own. It’s how my beautiful boy was made.

I reached over to him, as he finished up breakfast and I sipped my coffee, and ran my hands through his hair. I touched his shoulder even though he didn’t want me to, because he is a little wary when I display too much emotion. I told him I could not be more proud, more grateful, for him.

 

 

Why Doesn’t Love Last?

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I think our deepest need is to love and be loved.

And yet so many relationships end, and not well, or people disappoint us. We want to be loved, but we don’t know what that’s supposed to look like. Or we want to love someone else, but they don’t receive it or know how we feel. And then a relationship ends in one way or another, and we’re left bereft, confused, broken-hearted, not sure whether to jump into the waters again.

I know that I have always wanted love in my life, a deep, abiding love, where someone sees me and knows who I am on an intuitive level. But my marriage of 11 years fell apart because love went away—evaporated into air after many months of struggle and effort. And in another instance, I loved a man dearly, but couldn’t get the emotional support, attention, and intimacy from him I needed to sustain a lasting relationship.

Love is all around us, weaved into our vocabulary, and yet many of us don’t even know what it means. It’s a mix of attachment, attention, desire, affection. Sometimes it veers into ownership or possession, which can be stifling or hot. It involves commitment, ceremony, laughter, sex. It often comes in the form of support, sometimes financial, sometimes emotional, sometimes physical or spiritual.

It’s a lot like what Wislawa Szymborska says about poetry:

But what sort of thing is poetry?

Many a shaky answer

has been given to this question.

But I do not know and do not know and hold onto it,

as to a saving bannister.

What I’m coming to realize is that love is a lot like a spirit, the spirit that moves through all things. Sometimes it lights a spark in us, and that spark can grow if we nurture it or give it attention. And sometimes the fire can die, because we are too busy with our minds, too wrapped up in other emotions, too focused on love coming from a different direction, or unwilling, for one reason or another, to let it live. Love is so natural, and so immediate in our lives from the time we’re young (for those of us fortunate to have at least one loving parent), and yet it often eludes us throughout the rest of our lives, coming and going like a wave.

Love is not the same thing as partnership, though the two commingle. Anyone can have a short-term love, but making a thriving, lasting partnership takes a different kind of work. Both people have to be committed not only to the other person via paper or financial means, but to their own growth as well as the growth of their beloved’s. Even if that means having to let someone go. Because true love is non-grasping, non-possessive. And the people in a lasting, thriving partnership must be committed to their own form of becoming as much as they are committed to the inner growing of their partner. If someone in a relationship is holding onto old wounds, and shuts down, they shut out the other. And that means there will always be a gap between the two, a lack of unity or oneness. That’s not the kind of environment where a strong love can live in fullness.

We are in a new era, very different from any that came before. Marriage means something different than it used to, because divorce is common, and people live longer, have other goals and values. Women can have jobs and make the same amount of money, if not more, than the men they love, and so finances don’t bind people to the extent they used to. We are more open-minded about the many paths a life can take. We learn that attractiveness fades, moods come and go, money passes away. A lasting partnership requires an ability to stay strong despite all of these things, an ability to nurture the other person not just on a physical or financial level, but on a soul level.

That’s a tall order.

It is hard to find a lasting partnership. To be honest, I don’t see many who have made it work, two people who seem whole and happy together. But there are enough of them out there. They do exist. And even though I am not certain one of them is destined for me, I know I won’t settle for less than the fullness a good partnership can bring.

I want to be seen. I want to be heard. I want to love and be loved in a way that shows me the fullness of who I am, and the fullness and beauty of someone else. I want a person who inspires me and surprises me. With whom every day feels new and fresh.

Those of us who grew up in the 80’s remember Lloyd Dobler, the hero from the movie Say Anything, who fell in love with Diane Court, valedictorian of their graduating high school class. Diane was, on the exterior, out of his league. She was the smartest person in the class, while he rarely cracked a book. She was removed and separate from the seemingly trivial high school concerns of love and sex and drugs, but he was surrounded by a group of messy yet loyal friends. He saw in her something beautiful, majestic, and he didn’t shy away from pursuing her, even though everyone told him their relationship didn’t make sense. Even though her father looked at him with a wary and sharp gaze.

At one point in the movie, Lloyd is at the dinner table with Diane’s father and a few of her father’s friends, and the question of career comes up. Lloyd is not sure how to answer.

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that….

I don’t know, sir, I can’t figure it all out tonight, so I’m just gonna hang with your daughter.

Lloyd is an emblem of a new kind of man, a sort of yogi, a devotee. He lives in the present and acts from the heart in all things. It’s not clear, by the end of the movie, whether the relationship is going to last until the end of their lives. But regardless of whether it does, Lloyd’s is a moving kind of love. He sees something he wants and is brave enough to go after it. He becomes a strong emotional support for a strong emotional woman.

Maybe some women don’t see this as a treasure, but I do. This kind of love, the openness to see another person, the freshness of youth (no matter how old you get), and a sturdy, available emotional presence…. When it comes to romantic love, I don’t think there’s anything that means more to me in the world.

“Barbed Wire Heart”by Fred Davis is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

The Thing I Hate and the Thing I Love

Until yesterday, despite being in an MFA program for creative writing, I have not written fiction in earnest for many weeks. Because I hate trying to write stories.

And yet telling stories is also my great love.

I spoke recently to my advisor from my MFA program, the talented and generous Helen Schulman. The novel I’m writing, and have been tinkering with for several years, is not working yet. It is a beast, and I have to make it beautiful. But I don’t know how to structure it. It is ambitious and complicated, and it has been making my head swirl. I want to throw in the towel, because there are no rules for how to do it. This novel has never been built before. No one has done it before me. There is no one to tell me how to do it, or what to do.

I told Helen I didn’t know if I should be working on it at all. That maybe I had to let the book go. “It’s just so hard,” I said.

She affirmed my complaint. She said it’s a lot of work and very little reward. “The only reason people write,” she said, “is because they can’t stop.”

So let me tell you about this short story I’ve been working on.

Back in 2011, I remembered something that happened to me in 5th grade, and for some reason I felt compelled to write about it. I had two kids by that point, and I was getting more adept at looking at things from a child’s point of view, so I wanted to capture the weirdness of the situation my 10-year-old self faced. A girl had come up to me at recess one day, out of the blue, and told me she wanted to fight me. I was to meet her after school.

I was scared. I wasn’t the kind of person who was a physical fighter (I usually chose words), and I knew that if my mom found out, she’d be very mad at me. But I couldn’t back down, either, because I’d risk my reputation at school. I’d look like a coward.

That day, on the way to the trail where I was supposed to meet the girl, the three friends I had with me tried to give me pointers. “Give her an uppercut,” one of them said. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t know what any of this meant. It was all so stupid, I thought. Aren’t you supposed to fight someone in the heat of passion, when you wanted to get all of your anger and aggression out? I didn’t have any of that for this person. All I knew was she was popular; otherwise, I hadn’t thought of her much at all.

We got to the trail. She was standing with her friends, her brother, some older boys. I faced her, and a boy behind her said, “Start the fight!”

“We’re starting the fight!” she said.

I looked behind me and saw that my friends had moved away. Instead of standing behind me like her friends stood behind her, they had moved off to the side, huddled close together, talking.

The girl came at me. She whipped around her arms and her legs and kicked me in my side. I didn’t really hit back. It didn’t make sense, and I didn’t really want to. I just blocked the blows.

Finally, she stopped.

“I won the fight!” she announced.

The group of us headed off the trail into the development full of houses. A boy from our school was across the street, raking up leaves with his father. “I won the fight!” she told him.

Then my friends and I walked back to my house.

“Why didn’t you stand behind me?” I asked.

One of them said, “Because we didn’t want to see you get hurt.”

We walked the rest of the way with our heads down. My side ached where the girl had kicked me, but I was also aching because it was clear these weren’t actually my friends. I was coming to terms with the reality that in so many ways in my life, I was alone.

When I began writing this story, I was wrestling with this sense of loneliness, this feeling of being separate or different. And that became the root of the story, even though I didn’t know it at that time. It became a story that reflected what I believed deep down, what had been shown to me through struggles and pain, through dark periods of my life. I am alone. I am alone.

Luckily, this is something I don’t actually believe anymore.

For eight years, I’ve worked on this short story. Eight years, 19 pages. First it was called, “The Fight.” Now it’s called “The End of the World.” First it was true to my own story, my own biography. Then it changed. The main character’s parents got divorced. She and her mother moved. I took the fight part out. I put it back in. For a while, a plot point revolved around her having a baby brother. Then the brother got eliminated. She had a stepdad; then she didn’t.

I have not figured out, for the life of me, how to tell this story. It has driven me crazy, so I’ve left it for long periods sitting in isolation on my computer. Or I wrap up some loose ends and send it out to publications for rejections. And then when it gets rejected, I look at it again.

Because I can’t stop.

Yesterday, I reluctantly opened up the story again. It’s been sitting in a sidebar on my computer, waiting for me. And I really didn’t want to work. I wanted to lie on the couch and read instead. It was raining outside, and dreary, and I was tired. And I had read the same lines for so many years, the same sequence of events. I had grappled with how the girl’s mother behaves, or what the popular girls at school were supposed to say. I felt conflicted about the fight, whether it captured something true. Above all, that’s what a story needs to do. It needs to be true. Not true in terms of fact, but true to universal human experience. Who was this girl, and what was it she wanted? How would she actually behave? What’s a likely ending for a story like this?

What does this story believe?

So I fiddled some more. I changed some things. I cut a few paragraphs and added a line here and there. I changed the presentation of the fight. As I worked, and made myself a second cup of coffee, and forced myself to sit there in what started out as misery, I slowly lost myself and began to feel lighter. I moved through the toil of words and emotions and on to the other side, toward heightened energy. Toward truth.

I came to the end, and I smiled at the girl. She was here. She was alive. And she was not alone.

I think I’m almost there.

 

“.”by S.Yoo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Awake or Asleep?

I’ve always had so many questions.

When I was in first grade in a city Catholic school, for instance, and a nun started teaching us about Adam and Eve, I raised my hand and asked how all the people in the world could possibly be made from just two people. Especially if incest was wrong. (Though I doubt that’s how I phrased it.)

The nun told me to go back to filling in the answers on my worksheet, which made me wonder—even at that early age—if Catholicism was the right place for me.

In second grade, when we were taught to go into a confessional and tell the priest our sins, I made a few things up, because otherwise I couldn’t think of anything to say. He gave me a penance of 8 Hail Marys, which felt cheap to me. I squinted at the pictures of saints on the stained glass windows. Really? I wondered. I can do bad things and say a couple prayers and all will be absolved?

As I got older, I kept asking questions.

In my twenties: Should I change my last name when getting married? What should I tell my kids about Santa Claus?

In my early thirties: Is there a God? If so, then why do all these government leaders seem so mean and self-absorbed? 

Later: Who am I? What do I want?

And: How does one achieve deeper contentment and lasting peace?

People tell me I overthink.

Likely.

If someone were to ask me if she should embark on a spiritual path, my first response might be to say, I really don’t know.

And the next question I would ask would be, Well, do you want to live your life awake or asleep? 

I want to escape my problems as much as the next person. I want to go to happy hours and drink a lot so that I feel carefree. I want to meet able-bodied, handsome men and let the night run its course. I want to sit on my ass on the couch for hours watching television with my hand in a bag of honey-wheat pretzels.

But do I want to live my life in a haze, acting out of habit, never really knowing myself, repeating damaging patterns that feel stifling? Do I want to lose my temper, make erratic decisions, do things that make me feel foolish or filled with regret?

Or do I want to, you know, little by little, practice opening my eyes?

Meditation, to me, always felt like the spiritual practice that was organic and sensible. Sit still. Breathe. Notice what comes up without judgment. Continue to breathe.

It’s so simple. So why isn’t it easy?

Before my yoga teacher training, where I adopted a daily meditation practice, I would face the silence and the rambling of my thoughts during weekly Quaker meeting. The Quaker mode of Christian worship is like a cousin to Eastern meditation practice, though the difference is that occasionally someone in a Quaker meeting will rise with a message they feel called to speak. But the practice of sitting still, in silence, trying to center, and wading through the congo of the mind is similar. In both situations, we need the courage to face ourselves, to see who we are, to figure out what we want or what direction to take.

When we sit still and breathe with an open, brave heart, all sorts of things will come up. We may remember conversations we had that didn’t turn out well, things we did in the past we’re not proud of. We’ll think about all the things we have to do. We may begin to daydream and get carried away by fantasy. Or we might acknowledge strange sensations in our bodies we can’t explain. What we do is just acknowledge, and then go back to breathing calmly, swimming toward that place in ourselves that is also at the core of everything.

And then we get to experience—beyond all the thoughts and fears and explanations and worries—who we really are, what it really feels like to be alive. Not alive in the passing happiness we get from a “like” in our social media feed, or a kiss from someone we love, or the taste of an ice cream sundae. But alive in a deeper and richer way.

It might scare us, to know ourselves. If we know what we truly want, deep down, if we discover who we really are—past other people’s expectations and desires of us, past our own desire for illusory pleasure—we might have to make changes. And most people are pretty afraid of change. We might discover there’s something we wanted that we never knew, or there might be ways we’re holding ourselves back, or we learn that past experiences wounded us more than we at first believed.

But the good things that happen from a meditation practice are far better than initial states of discomfort. With practice comes a growing feeling of expansiveness, a sense of oneness, a connection to all things. The sky becomes bluer, the grass greener, the birds’ chirping more bright. It’s like eating a flavorful meal after a years-old diet of plain rice. We get glimpses at what it feels like to live on the other side of fear. We begin to think with more clarity and don’t let fleeting emotions dominate our behaviors. We grow in love and compassion—for ourselves and for others.

All it takes is courage and some willpower, and the rest falls into place. A few minutes a day, a particular time that works, a special, solitary spot. It’s a time to release, to sit still and concentrate purely on taking one breath, then the next. It’s a chance to rest in silence and discover who you are, what makes you tick.

So many things that happen in life are out of our control, but we do have the power of our choices. We can decide how we want to spend our time.

Do you want to spend it awake or asleep?

“tempb”by whothinkaboutit is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Trusting Again

What do you do when someone is not who you thought they were?

How can you ever trust another person again, or trust yourself?

Years ago, I had a spiritual job I loved, something I felt called to do. It inspired and enlivened me, gave me a sense of passion and purpose I had never had before.

But then the man who gave me the job, who was also my friend, betrayed me by letting me go, without warning.  It made me question my faith and my spiritual community. In a moment, all the work I loved was gone. I was confused, lost, scared. I thought I’d be tainted in some way, that no one would ever hire me again, that I’d never again be able to bring passion to a job or be able to do spiritual work.

My marriage also collapsed when I began to see things more clearly, and the months following left me feeling betrayed, bewildered, and scared about what was going to happen to me, where I was heading, where I would end up.

I had put faith in people, trusted them, and they had let me down.

The thing I like about Christianity, and why I’ve been going to Quaker meeting for years, is that the human story of Jesus feels, at times, visceral to me. After I lost that job I loved, I sat at my Quaker meeting on Easter Sunday, and stories from the Bible began to come like a movie screen in my mind. I had not read the Bible, only skimmed it occasionally. But I knew enough of the stories that I could meditate on Jesus, on the Quaker idea that the Holy Spirit guides us from within.

What I saw on that day was Jesus’s pain. He too was betrayed, I remembered. He made the horrible journey through Golgotha until he was nailed to a cross and left to suffer and die. And what horrific torment that was. Mine paled in comparison.

But what I saw too was that he rose after that betrayal and pain, into a brilliant beam of light that could help others. He inspired other people, uplifted them, made them believe that there is more than who we are on this earth. We are not just flesh, but we are spirits, capable of great love and compassion. Capable of wisdom and humility and awe.

When I saw this story played out before my inner eye, I felt comforted. There was hope, there was renewal. There was rising again. I knew I could do that, too.

I know that there are a lot of people who do not believe in God, or who are wounded by organized religion, or who’d prefer to focus on the material and concrete rather than the spiritual realm. But I’ve had too many experiences that are unexplainable in my life, and I take great solace that One—One more powerful than any human could ever be, wiser and more infinite—is watching over me, guiding me along my path. I am like the toddler, walking along, falling all the time. But when I look upward, God, like a parent, picks me up and sets me right again, with so much love. The biggest choice I have to make is whether to believe, to ask, and to let that love in.

People can’t always measure up to what I want them to be. I, too, frequently let myself down by making mistakes. I’m not perfect, even though I wish I were. And of course I have questions about why bad things happen in the world, why—if God is in control—horrible things occur everyday. Why are people poor and starving? Why do wonderful, good-hearted people die young? Why is there so much suffering, even when people turn their hearts to God? Why doesn’t God save everybody? Why do there have to be so many rules? Why, if there is a God, doesn’t He/She come down right now and cause a big stir so everybody sees and knows it?

I don’t know the answers. My mind is small, my power limited. What I do know is that when I suffer, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to alleviate the pain. I don’t want to persist in a place of confusion or torment or misery. And so I let my heart break open wide and I bow down and submit before a Creator that is more masterful than I am, more complicated, more infinite and wise. I can’t figure it out. I never will. So I offer it up.

And what I’ve found in this practice is peace, and beauty, and a sense of purity that comes through my emptiness, through my letting go. What I’ve found is faith, the trust that regardless of how many times I fall down while carrying my own cross through life, I will eventually be uplifted. And when I come through my pain onto the other side, I can only hope to help others by using what I’ve learned.

We are each houses built, brick by brick, of our experiences. We never know who we touch on our path toward grace, how one comment or gesture or smile can change someone, can be what’s needed to bring them to greater fullness. And so despite the fact that people will fail us, that people will be weak, at times, or make terrible mistakes, there is something greater to put faith in. God—for lack of a better word—will hold you, guide you, give you clearer vision and a fuller heart.

All you have to do is ask, with sincerity. It’s that easy.

Wildflowers

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Three years ago, in March, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was a place I always wanted to go, and for some reason, it felt like the right time. I was at the cusp of a new job, a new beginning, and the desert was calling to me.

I had never gone on a trip by myself before. I had never even hiked. But I wanted to feel my feet on solid ground, to see the sun hit the canyon, to take in the many hues of the red rock. So I bought hiking shoes, packed a fleece, and went.

It was an emotional trip. Being alone in the desert was a time to process all that had happened in the year before. My husband moved out. I began to share custody of my kids. I started and ended a relationship with another man and looked desperately for work. But I had my copy of Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ book with me, Women Who Run with the Wolvesand traveled the paths of the canyon with a sense of wonder. My mother and grandmother had never had an opportunity like this, to travel far away on their own. They had made sacrifices in their lives so they could raise kids. And here I was, an independent woman who was the fruit of their pain, their love, their duty.

When I came home and started my new job, I knew my time there was limited. I have a creative mind, a spirit of passion about the paths that I undertake, and I could not get excited about the industry I was in, which was very technical. But I was doing what I thought was right for myself and my kids—taking a job that enabled me to move out of my house, find an apartment, make a living in an office environment with a level of flexibility, a slew of nice people, and the chance at upward mobility. And I got to work in the city, which is where I wanted to be.

The three years at that job proved more trying than I could have imagined. I underwent personal transformations that I didn’t expect. I dealt with mental health issues and feelings of loneliness. I had many gifts—that I knew—but I could share none of those gifts in such an environment. I had never thought myself to be a prideful person, but I certainly received dose after dose of humility. I was just not good at the job. Nor would I ever be. And despite my efforts, no other job was opening itself up to me.

What the job did do, however, was make me start to take a hard look at my priorities. Maybe they weren’t in order. When I got divorced, I started thinking a lot about money—about making enough of it to give my kids the life I thought they deserved. I thought I’d be a shrewd business woman, rise up through a company, make enough money to get a house with a porch and a yard. I’d take vacations to far-off lands. I’d get a car where the CD player worked (high hopes!), maybe even leather seats. Who knew—maybe one day I’d make enough to afford a convertible, so we could all drive around with the sun on our shoulders.

Instead, what happened was that I sat inside a cubicle all day looking at my pictures of the Grand Canyon, my taped-up copies of Mary Oliver poems, feeling dead inside. Life became the thing I did after work, on my lunch break, or weekends. I know some people can compartmentalize their jobs and tell themselves, “This is something I do for income, and it allows me to live the rest of my life with much greater ease.” But that is not me, for better or worse. I ended up looking for fleeting pleasures—happy hours, dinners out, wine (too much) with cheese, vacations that would allow me to really live. Weekends came, and I felt alive again. Yet they’d pass so quickly, and I’d go back to the majority of my days spent looking for meaning, feeling stuck, feeling like I was shoved in a box. I looked at the picture of my kids on my desk and would whisper, I’m doing this for you. And yet, so many times, I felt that I couldn’t actually do it. How was I going to get through the day? I worried I was going to lose my mind, or that I already had. I became desperate in my search for a way out. But the constant refrain was money, money, money.

When I applied, interviewed and didn’t get yet another office job, I examined my efforts  a little more closely. What really mattered in my life? Was it the house with the dishwasher and the yard? Was it a nicer car? Was it worldly success, or what other people thought of me? Because I had tried, and failed, for years, to get a job where I felt “successful.” Or was it more important to live in line with my higher purpose, a calling that might change depending on the week or the month or the year? In essence, I started to consider, who—and what—was it I wanted to serve?

Finally all my feelings came to a head. I gave myself a relaxing weekend where I spent a lot of time alone, read, reflected, walked, and watched TV (sometimes, when there’s a lot on my mind, I just need to watch TV). I realized I was healthy and not depressed. There was nothing inherently wrong with me. I felt good. But Monday morning came, and there was a weight hanging over my entire body. I tried to do yoga, but couldn’t get up off the floor. I didn’t know how I would even manage to get dressed. And it was then I knew: It was either me or the job.

I chose me.

Of course, after I made the decision to leave, I was terrified. I knew I’d made the right choice, the only choice I could, but there was the old refrain: Money, money, money. 

Luckily, my faith calms me. I have my spiritual practices, my amazing friends. And I know I don’t have to plan out my whole life—the pensions, the 401K, the illusion of stability in a company that truly, can let you go at any time. I have only to know the next step, and trust that what I need to do will be illuminated when it needs to be. I know this much: I have many talents, many ways to earn a living, and it doesn’t have to be in one place. I’ve been a tutor, a freelance editor, a caretaker, a writer, a teacher. And I have hope now. I’m in a creative writing program which, with hard work and some luck, will allow me to get my book out into the world. And I’m going to go to massage therapy school, because I love and want to help people, and I am good with my hands.

On my last day of work, a woman in a neighboring department made me a cake and told me about the song “Wildflowers” by Dolly Parton, which she said reminded her of me. I’d never heard it.

And the flowers I knew
In the fields where I grew
Were content to be lost in the crowd
I had no room for growth
I wanted so much to get out

So I uprooted myself from my home ground and left
Took my dreams and I took to the road
When a flower grows wild
It can always survive
Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.

 

The day after, I took an early flight to California to visit my dad. He and I have had an an on-again, off-again relationship, because I had a lot of anger and pain that he wasn’t in my life as a child. But our story is one of redemption, and forgiveness, and God’s love, and open arms.

me and dad

And near his house, on Victory Trailhead, despite the fires that rolled through last year and nearly destroyed the area, everything was green.

We walked through fields of wildflowers.

wildflowers field

Despite my fear about the unknown, about what’s to come, I know what I have, and what I have gained in my life is greater than anything I have lost.

The wildflowers whisper, You are one of us. And you are going to be okay. 

 

Spring Mix

It’s spring, and all the trees in my neighborhood are bursting with color. I’m also taking a lot more walks, listening to the birds, seeing nature rising up in splendor everywhere. Even the crows seem harbingers of something good, their squawks more chipper than usual.

Ever since college, I’ve been a big believer in the mix tape, even though no one listens to cassette tapes anymore. Making a mix tape was hardcore, much different than selecting a bunch of songs on iTunes now, lining them up in a queue. (And I hate iTunes—it is the opposite of intuitive. There has to be a better way.) Back in the day, I’d sit on the floor of my bedroom with the breeze blowing through the window, CD cases splayed around me. I’d listen to this song and that, trying to find the perfect one to get across a sentimental and melodic message for someone I cared about. I’d mix favorite songs up with little-heard but quality tracks, men’s voices with women’s, varying genres that complemented each other. It was an art form, time well-spent that came from the heart.

I make a mean musical mix.

But music isn’t the only thing blooming with the flowers these days. There is so much great art I’m finding to delve into this year, as I embrace new beginnings in my life. I’m reading whatever books I’m drawn to, watching less TV. So here are some picks, music and otherwise, to get you off your ass up and out and dive into the beautiful spring.

Poetry

Mary Oliver is the perfect poet to read as nature blooms. I found this poem as I was cleaning up around my apartment yesterday, and it reminded me how much trees provide energetically, how they are such a calm, cool, stable presence that we often take for granted.

“When I am Among the Trees”

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Music

I’m listening to a few artists these days, and I recently sought out Hozier because he has such great masculine energy. (There’s a lot of feminine energy in my abode, with two daughters and a female cat. My son feels really outnumbered.) I’ve been listening to his album, Wasteland, Baby, which is so well-done, but I’m a little annoyed by the wasteland part. Thinking of the world as a wasteland is just depressing, as are some of the lyrics, like in the song “No Plan,” which is pretty much a modern day version of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The message is, “Hey baby. There’s no God and all life is darkness. But let’s love each other for now.”

But what happens when you die, dude? Then she’s all alone? I’ll take the bigger plan, thank you very much, instead of all your bleakness.

Besides, he drops the F-bomb a lot in this album, which is totally unnecessary, and means I can’t listen to it around my kids. I am a big fan of the F-bomb, mind you, in the right company. But I don’t like when it’s thrown into an otherwise nice song.

Also, what is this picture?

Is his stomach cut open or something? I can’t figure it out.

And yet, this particular song, “Almost (Sweet Music)” is wonderful! I promise it will make you dance. A must for your spring mix.

 

TV

Okay, I know I said I wasn’t watching much TV, and I’m not, but we all know spring has rainy days. So when there’s a day all you want to do—or all you can do—is sit on your couch, you must watch Catastrophe on Amazon Prime. It’s the funniest show I’ve seen in a while. Maybe ever? I can’t get enough. My only complaint is that there aren’t more episodes.

 

Books

I have a boatload of books piled on my desk right now, but most of them are not things other people will want to read. Autobiography of a Yogi? I love it, but it’s not for everyone. Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols? Yeah! Or would you prefer a textbook called The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings? I know, mesmerizing. (It sort of is, to me.) So I’ll throw this one out for you, a collection of short stories by Kristin Roupenian, who made it big after she wrote a short story called “Cat Person” that got published in The New Yorker. I heard she signed, like, a million dollar book deal. This shit just doesn’t normally happen, especially for short stories, so the book is worth a read.

The stories are a mix of dark, funny, mysterious, quirky, honest and real. And they’re relatively short, so it’s perfect if you want to read and then take a nap. I wouldn’t be surprised if Roupenian ends up on the syllabus for a lot of college creative writing classes.

Food

Omg, these are amazing and really, really dangerous. Whenever they’re at the supermarket, I end up buying more than one bag in case they stop stocking them. I might have a problem.

 

 

I also encourage you to check out the spring edition of a relatively new literary magazine called Cagibi, where I just had a story published.

Now, go forth, multiply, or something! Have a salad! Enjoy!

 

Top image: “Colors of Spring” by Johan Neven via Flickr.