Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Crush

In my sleeping dreams, 
between sleeping and awake, 
and in my dreaming days--
yes, I had a dream last night:
view down a side street 
lovers on a swing
silent world behind the scene

I just love when the calm surrounds you
between sleeping and awake; 
when morning comes misty-eyed, 
shy as spring
slowly awakening
(hard times for dreamers)
(we can do hard things)

(I can feel your smile, 
your tart kiss on my lips. 
I miss you. 
Some days are hard; 
you've been away too long. 
it's not so black as it seems. 
it's not so black as it seems. 
this storm will pass. 

Feeling tangled
an unlikely combination:
fragments; a love affair. 
Age does not matter. 
Nothing matters. 
Will it ever end?
Please don't ask how it could be--

The unwritten page
The freedom of loneliness:
time to think, 
there is always room for emptiness. 
Sweep the heart. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

not till we are lost

the ink is black, the page is white
variations of black and white
when white meets black
some grays
cold hard black.
I wrote you a letter.

beauty of black and silver,
charcoal and graphite.
I’m walking the night
making a statement.
finding it hard to believe
dark leads to light—
break it to me gently

I do.
are we?
—something dramatic like that.
everybody was so young!
berry stained lips
they fall hard
I like to imagine their dreams,
share their passions.
welcome home, Persephone;
the dark is too hard to beat.

sometimes I still need you.

in the morning
it’s hard to wake up
the first days are so hard

Black mood
dark thinkings
that final disappointment
blackened by grief
morning after dark
a life well lived
well written

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

staying the course minus the carrots

A few weeks back I wrote several journal entries about resilience. I wrote about not feeling as though I have any. Then I wrote about times when I was resilient, and how it took lots of thinking and writing to learn to see resilience in any of my past behaviors. I also wrote about wanting to develop resilience, to become more resilient.

Perhaps the universe does sometimes give us exactly what we want. I am now in, as best I can tell, something like resilience boot camp. Nothing is terrible right now. But everything is also just a little bit not quite right:
  1. I'm finally getting back into the habit of exercise after having that awful Cold to End all Colds and my workouts aren't bad, but they aren't great either. I can feel muscles during and afterward, so that's good. But I feel worn out even while I exercise. I have not had that awesome triumphant badass rockstar experience in ages.
  2. I am working on my dissertation most days. But the work is  s  l  o  w  going, and that is being charitable. Yesterday I spent an hour fixing my template because somehow everything went right-aligned. ?! I am lucky to write a sentence--one sentence--these days. 
  3. All my acts of housewifery take what seems like forever to achieve. Making the bed feels like a morning-long chore. How is it that one person can dirty up so many dishes in one day? How does one cat shed so much hair? 
  4. There has been more (and more varied) social time and it has been taking shapes that are unfamiliar to me. I walk away from this time feeling sort of emotionally sore--not in pain, but as though I've worked some social-emotional muscles and I can feel them. I walk away not quite knowing if I've worked these muscles properly, with good (sustainable, beneficial) form.
I can let go of my worry over my current frazzled state, my fears that I am slipping permanently, and see this state for what it is: Resilience Boot Camp. Maybe I'll put on three pounds that will stick around for a few months. Maybe I won't feel like a rock star in my workouts for a few more months. Maybe I won't write more than a few sentences a day in my dissertation for a few months. Maybe I'll just feel tired and imperfect and behind for a little season. I need to know, to really know, deep in every bone, that that is okay. Every day, by refusing to throw in the towel because I am imperfect, by going through the motions and phoning everything in, I am training myself in resilience. This is hard work and I get to take some credit! I don't have to eat so many cookies or donut holes or chocolates to take credit. I can ease off of that. But I can remind myself that I am kicking butt when it comes to developing resilience. That resilience-development is where I am excelling right now. Every time I make my bed, I get a resilience point. Every time I clean house, do the dishes, mop; every time I bring my lunch; every time I put on nice clothes; every time I don't buy something; sometimes when I do buy something; every time I write one sentence in my dissertation; every time I meditate; every time I do a workout or even just take a walk or warm up or pedal on the stationary bike; every time I refuse to turn down time with friends--all these choices and actions represent ways that I am developing resilience because I do all of them so imperfectly right now and I still have not stopped doing them. I am still dragging myself through each one even though none of them make me feel amazing or awesome or rock star or energetic or relieved. I feel a little behind and worried and disappointed: I want growth to be linear! I want to rock sexy abs! I want to have a perfect shredded body that digests anything I eat on command! I want to have already finished my dissertation and have a job waiting for me! I want to have everything all Figured Out and on display, glossy like a magazine spread.

Right now nothing is bad, nothing is dire. I am not injured. I am not completely stalled. I'm just sluggish. Slow. Easily distracted. Tired. A little sore. Feeling my bones and my age and my worries deeply. If I was in real pain, I would (and should!) stop, rest, and heal. I am not in real pain; I am in minor ache. Proceed with caution, but don't stop moving. I don't want this to be my new forever pace, but I need to see this as an actual pace, and I need to remember to reward myself for movement that is mostly forward. I am going. I have not stalled. I can keep going. It might take a few more cups of coffee, a few more naps, a few more binge-recovery days; it might take a few novels, a massage or two, and a face mask. 

This--and not some glamorous, All Set, shiny, couture fantasy--this is what resilience looks like. It's slogging on and being willing to be ungraceful, inelegant, dirty, a little bloated, tired, frazzled, behind, late, slow, wrong, out of breath, off beat, out of tune, underpracticed, and emotionally disheveled. And doing it again tomorrow. And then the next day. And then, when this season of dishevelment is past, when things are a little shinier, more polished, smoother, faster, and prettier, it means a stronger, more grateful, more joyful core.

There's a fight song in here somewhere, but I'm too tired to write it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

wild states

anchor and daisy
something so delicate
weaving time
and time is a number that rests on the wall
repeated refrains of nature

what caught my eye
joy hidden in the willow basket
rugged and true
a box to hold the universe
velvet evening

bring me lilacs, please
bring me the light
I'd be a liar if I said
you make me feel...

nothing is black and white

[i did not write these lines; i only found and arranged them]
[i may have read Mornings Like This recently]

Saturday, March 16, 2013

story problems for women

If Susan = 

3 forehead wrinkles
5 crows' feet
10 coarse knuckles
gets drunk at every party 
1 devoted partner
1 tolerable job
perfect teeth
very soft hands

and if Nancy = 

2 dark undereye circles
1 vertical frown line
100 gray hairs
flirts a little with her friends' husbands 
1 hot lover (no commitment)
2  interesting freelance jobs (no benefits)
glossy thick hair
a really sexy laugh

and if Martha = 

thin lips
crepey eyelids
rough voice
a flat bottom 

doesn't give a goddam about calculations
except for when she snorts at other women who measure

Solve for the winner

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thanks, E. Jean

A note I wrote to E. Jean, my favorite hero nearly 2.5 years ago:

Dear E. Jean, I'll be blunt: I am afraid I have been channeling Edward Casaubon for much of my life. Channeling a postmodern E Casaubon, that is. My reasons: (1) I am in my third year out of coursework and have yet to produce a viable chapter; (2) I am dating a man as virtuous, lovely, and great-spirited as Dorothea; (3) I am convinced that I am incapable of enduring friendship. The first two worry me least (the man is not a worry at all, in fact). The third, however, is dispiriting! As a good postmodernist/Kierkegaardian/existentialist (circle one), I am well aware that I cannot deserve any friendship: friendship is a daily offering of generosity, not a professional contract. Etc. But how do people do it? Let me state in my own partial defense that I am not entirely a social cretin. I can be charming and rather humorous company. I enjoy being around others about as much as I enjoy solitude. Still, I marvel at the friendships my friends experience with others. They endure over the course of many years—decades, even. They may ebb and flow, but there are phone calls, visits, emails—communication—across all sorts of distances. This is not my experience. Once a friend has left my zip code, friendship, like an unwatered plant, loses its bloom. Ah, my would-be Philoctetes, you say, why not call up these pals, send them emails, letters, flowers plan visits? I do... Perhaps not as much as I ought to do, but I have such a sense of intruding on their lives, taking up their free time or of insisting that they talk to me, now! that it is difficult to sustain the effort. If this had happened once or twice, I should think nothing of it—not all friendships are of the life-long or even years-long nature. But this has become such a regular pattern for me that I am faced with the strong possibility that there is some relationship between this incapacity for friendship and my own character. How can I overcome the limitations of my own character and learn to have lasting friendships?
Some things have changed in the interim: I have produced almost and nearly viable chapters. The current draft of chapter one my dissertation director has in his hands may indeed be viable. I do now worry whether the man and I will be able to forge a relationship that endures into the future. What hasn't changed is my fear of forcing myself on others. I feel I speak the language of friendship brokenly, with insufficient vocabulary and no grasp of verb tenses. 

I suppose the answer is in the metaphor I just wrote: If I wish to become more fluent in friendship, then I must devote much more time to it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

preparing for Lent

I have decided to keep Lent this year. I have never done so and have spent the past week or fortnight wondering what it is I might do. I've overheard conversations, spoken and online, in which a conversant gives something up: chocolate, coffee, and facebook are items I've commonly heard. I could give up meat, but then I don't eat much anyway. I could commit to praying the Daily Office twice a day, and that would indeed be good discipline. It isn't in my heart (yet?), though, and I don't want to (re)train myself in scrupulous rule-keeping this year. 

Then I found this poem and I think it is exactly what I will do:

For Lent, 1966
by Madeleine L'Engle
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Leaning into the discomfort of happiness

This, I think, is the name for the work I have to do this year. I need to learn to lean into happiness even though it makes me very uncomfortable. 

I have been learning and re-learning many things over the past year. I stepped up my exercise habits and have been re-learning many new things about breathing and form and pacing. I learned a few things about teaching when I taught my first class and I learned a bit about book indexing when I indexed a book for the first time. I learned more about how to edit electronically when I took the last class I needed for a certificate in copyediting. I have learned, finally, (I think!) what it is my dissertation can do, and I am in the process of finding out how much of what I currently have written I must release in order to craft a single, elegant argument. 

I have been learning about the effects of stress and anxiety and worry and negativity on my eating habits, on my digestive health, and on my voice. 

For many of the things about which I have been learning, I have relied on sources pretty far removed from myself. I have a nice little library of workout videos, for example. I learned how to index by reading about it and then just by doing it. When I taught, I tried to follow the examples set for me by the excellent teachers I have had, but otherwise I learned by paying attention to what I did and the results I got. As I've been learning to calm my anxiety, I've been seeking out online articles and self-help books about meditation, digestive health, and letting go of perfectionism.

For my voice, however, I have found a teacher. I need a teacher. I need there to be someone who does not live inside my head who will push me to do things I find uncomfortable. Although Jillian Michaels tells me to "dig, dig, dig, dig, DIG!" in her fitness video, she can't see my response. Sometimes I dig and I push harder; sometimes, at that point, I'm shaking my head at her and drinking water. She has no clue, and that helps me to feel safe. It is much the same with all the lessons I seek online and in books: I can retreat into self-congratulatory smugness and no one will push me to see it. I can pick and choose what I want to take from those lessons and there is no accountability.

I know that what I need to do in order to improve--in order to learn--is to be teachable. In order to be teachable, I have to be soft and flexible. I have to be sufficiently and appropriately vulnerable. In order to do that, I have to stop hiding behind the cynicism, skepticism, defensiveness, negativity, and weakness I've been using as a shield to protect me from feeling so vulnerable not only around other people, but inside myself: I am so worried about having to feel happiness, joy, excitement, wonder, awe, pride--all these pleasant emotions terrify me. Learning brings up all of these emotions. Being able to do something I couldn't do, understanding something I didn't understand--these are very, very good things. 

I am so ashamed of showing how pleased I am about something that I lacquer over the pleasure with negativity, as though that will protect me and my feelings of pleasure. Sometimes, however, before I feel the feeling before I've had a chance to coat it. Usually this happens with some kind of art: poetry, music, painting; sometimes it happens with a story about some bit of human interaction. When I allow myself to be moved, to feel the uncoated feeling, usually I cry. Often the tears are not polite, company tears, either. I don't want to do this around other people. If I let myself stay soft around others, I risk cracking open and that seems manipulative and inappropriate.

This is what I worry about as I try to shift from a default response of negativity toward openness, positivity, hopefulness, and trust. I am afraid that as I lean into the discomfort of happiness, I will break open and that others will have to witness the breaking. I am afraid that I will be laughed at and scorned as I begin these steps toward openness and trust and joy. I already feel guilty about the discomfort I will cause others as I aim for discomfort myself.