Monthly Archives: January 2014

Between Acts

Everest Range

So I was reading from Thomas Merton’s journals this week and came upon this: “It is really illogical that I should get temptations to run off to another monastery and to another Order of monks.” Oh my God, was he this way too? Restless and wondering whether life would be better in that monastery over there instead? I nearly fell out of my chair. For here I go again, looking to reinvent my life.

For years, change was almost scripted for us. Due to job transfers and job changes our family hopped around, West Coast, East Coast, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest. That which moved us also settled us in some pretty spectacular places. And I indulged in a nearly promiscuous love affair with houses and starting over.

Today we are more settled having been in this home, and in this city, longer than any other. But all our cards are in the air as my husband has left his position of fifteen years. And where did he go, the hardest working man I had ever known? He went trekking in the Himalayas….

Always believe it when you hear that climbing the Himalayas is life-changing.

Whatever Paul does next has to be entirely new and challenging. He needs mountains. So we’re giving our imaginations free reign and looking at everything, from other offers, to consulting, to living abroad—it’s now or never, he says—to living in a high-rise downtown, to moving to the San Juan Islands and living near the boat. In Panama this might be called “living off the grid.” I’m not suggesting anything like that, but definitely taking stress down a few notches. I hate to say it, but we could grow old there.

I am learning to shop in my own closet. Whatever path we chose, we have too much stuff. How simple it would have been for Thomas Merton!

I’m happy for Paul to have this time off, and treasure the time together. Long walks pondering what to do with the rest of our lives…. Don’t know what we’ll do, but change is in the wind. My folks are alive and well and would like us to come east. Our daughters live in San Francisco.

We are betwixt and between and maybe, just maybe, entirely free.

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The Book Drunk

EmergingAmaryllisSmallI came home this winter with handfuls of hyacinth bulbs and rooted them in jars of water, all lined up on a windowsill. For awhile it gave me great pleasure. When my husband could see nothing happening whatsoever, I was admiring the silky long white roots swimming like seaworms. Suddenly the flower spikes shot up, far too fast. For hyacinths seem spent as soon as they bloom.

Much like coming headlong to the end of a good book.

It is the anticipation of all the unread books by your chair, by your bed, and piled on the dining table that really get to you. To say nothing of miles and miles of books on shelves. Lost and absorbed in a good book, this is bliss. When it’s over, you’ve been transplanted alright, but where are you? Cold and alone, on an island at sea. Floundering. Between worlds. It can take a little while to find one’s footing again.

Oh magnificent reading, why must it ever end?

The only thing to do, of course, is pick up another book. Fortunately you have them stacked away and at the ready. While everyone appears to be unloading their home libraries, you’ve become a bibliophile (something that was in you all along). The child who lined up all the Nancy Drew books in the series. Later, the journals of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Still later, the works of Joan Dideon, and on and on….

The more you read, the further behind you get. Books seem to beget books. Friends lend them and give them, and you can buy books faster than you can read them, Evelyn Wood or no Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Program. Who even wants to skim? Not you. You love every word too much.

Give me the long slow amaryllis bulb. The steady, slow progress of inching along every day. Poised for greatness like a good read. The gradual unfurling, in no hurry to flower. This is the moment I most enjoy.

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Semantics

Snow PicSometimes it is necessary to borrow a phrase from another country to enrich one’s life in this one. Nothing illustrates this point more than the English expression, “the pleasure ground,” as a substitute for yard or lawn.

I did a little research on this subject and discovered that the idea of uniformly kept lawns in suburbia is unique to the U.S.A. It seems that in our enthusiasm for democracy we thought neighborhoods should share the same look, from one lot to the next, like one long continuous park. Equality, in other words. But sometimes equality is boring.

Yard + lawn = yawn.

Across the pond they see things differently. The English take more ownership of their lot, front and back, referring to it as “the pleasure ground.” And as lots become smaller in the cities, each square foot is considered all the more precious.

Growing a hedge or erecting a wall around one’s lot helps realize one’s dream, whether it be a kitchen or cutting garden, raising hens, or creating a green oasis of privacy and quiet. In other words it’s your land to do what you want, and the English have always embraced that concept.

The second phrase may be more about semantics than anything else, but the words we choose to use help shape our feelings. Americans are obsessed with taking vacations. That must be because we are obsessed with work. Again, when the English travel, they refer to it as being “on holiday.” It doesn’t have to be a recognized holiday. It’s simply an  expression of pleasure.

That is how I want to see it too, as being “on holiday,” be it a long distance trip, a weekend in the country, or an afternoon spent in my own pleasure ground.

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Saddle Up

H Pic-1

Forget twelve-step programs, it’s three-steps for me just to get out of bed and “take on the day.” Let me explain.

Step 1. Morning Pages. I’ve been faithfully practicing this since I started, say fifteen years ago. The program as taught by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way is a spiritual life-saver. Can’t recommend it enough.

Step 2. Simple Abundance, by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Daily meditations and the keeping of a gratitude journal start each day off on the right foot (i.e. attitude).

Step 3. A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals. This is a new one for me. I’ve added these gems from his journals because, like Anne LaMott, I find Thomas Merton “an incredible source of light and comfort and humor.” And although neither Anne nor I are particularly Catholic, I’m sure that she, like me, is pleased as punch with Pope Francis. And so on January 1, 2014 I added Thomas Merton’s meditations as the third step in getting out of bed, and haven’t missed a day yet.

When so many New Year’s Resolutions go down the drain, maybe we have been calling them by the wrong name. What if we thought instead of having aspirations? Let’s look for something desired, rather than the medicinal taste “resolution” leaves in our mouths. I mean, who even uses that word anymore? And we’ve all been around enough to know that, year after year, a resolution is never really resolved. Cynicism becomes us.

What if, instead, we were to be gentle with ourselves and grow what is working? Expand on what we are doing well. Do more of it. Piggyback complementary habits to it. I’m just thinking this might make all the difference in the world.

I had the first two steps going, and all I had to do was add the third. This is what I mean by piggybacking. Habits are learned through practice, and the best way I’ve found is to strap a new one onto a trusty old saddle. And let them go riding out together…

But please don’t call it “resolution” or you’ll never get anywhere. Call it desire, yearning or longing. Call it aspiration, leaning, longing. Call it something you would want. Then maybe on this second week in January we would not only remember what it was we had vowed to do, but we  could be practicing it.

Just know that in my case, it’s taking half the morning to get out the door to, you know, take on the day.

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