One’s personal landscape

Tonight I did something I haven’t in a long time: lingered for two hours over dinner with a friend. We walked for quite a while before that, enjoying the sunset and the views from her neighborhood, a climb up a very steep cobblestoned hill, talking about her life and mine. We shared the entire meal from the appetizers to dessert, exclaiming over tastes, delighting together. We had been seated in a very small section right by the window, and as I glanced outside at the pavement, I thought about how many people’s personal experiences have occurred in that small geographical spot, how that piece of pavement is so much more than just some concrete, but the scene of kisses, conversation, smokes, fights, beginnings and endings and middles of things, the recipient of so much energy and emotion. I have associations, all the way from strong to subtle, with places around the various locales I’ve lived. There’s a piece of pavement outside a restaurant in this city that was the scene of the wrap-up of a breakup quite a number of years ago. The feeling of that event and its aftermath persists in my mind and heart, so that when I see that particular corner, I experience the bittersweet flavor of it, however fleetingly.

As it happens, we made commitments to each other as we were breaking up to remain close, to cherish our friendship, and to not allow ourselves to be driven apart by any subsequent partners. And we’ve kept those commitments and to this day are very close friends. And therefore, my relationship to that memory, and the feeling evoked by that place has changed over the years, so that the proportion of bitter and sweet has tilted resoundingly toward the latter.

So I thought about the fact that everyone has a personal landscape that overlays the geographical reality of a place, not often talked about, but felt in mind, heart, and body in daily life. There’s another restaurant fairly close to where I live, the sight of which as I drive by it prompts a more recent and different combination of bitter and sweet. And that’s part of my personal landscape, the tapestry of sensation, perception, thought, memory, that enriches my experience of my life. I’d rather have it than not. I’d rather be open to the full range of my humanity than to live in a box, especially one of my own choosing and construction.

I told my friend about this idea of personal landscape as we were talking, and said that I’d love to be able to look down from above on our living room, for example, and see the layers of life and feeling there: see the old man who lived here a couple of decades ago in his favorite chair, reading; see his daughter (the woman who sold us the house) in the pink room, which was her bedroom when she was a child.

And tonight I got to add another layer of association and positive feeling in a part of the city in which I haven’t spent much time. That’s a lovely gift.

new friend, conversation, community, cousin time

This morning I had tea with someone I haven’t known for that long. She and I have a few life circumstances in common, and it was great to share histories, current events, thoughts/feelings. It’s lovely to develop a new friendship, to feel the happiness of a mutually appreciated connection and anticipate fun and interesting times to come.

This afternoon I went to pick Hazel up from school. Ted was home, and so I got to go over there by myself. I talked to a couple of the other parents of Hazel’s friends for a while, so got to have more interesting and enjoyable conversation, interspersed with the occasional bit of advice, direction, help, or comforting as required by the younger set. Gradually, over the course of the year I’ve met and started to get to know various of the kids’ parents in Hazel’s school. I really love hearing people’s stories, of where and how they grew up, where they’ve lived, what they’ve done that’s important to them, or difficult. I love sharing parenting stories, challenges. I love the sense of community. It’s lovely to feel that my community has expanded as Hazel’s has, more slowly, but gaining a sense of solidity as the year progresses, and we all get more familiar with each other.

After school Hazel went home with her friend D for a playdate. When I came to pick her up and take her to the park where her sisters and cousin were playing, she and D had constructed a slide down his stairs with his mattress and a ton of pillows, and were having all the fun possible. I love seeing how she gets different things with different friends. She and D play so well together. They have a good rapport, and are able to work out differences or conflicts when they arise with little to no adult help.

At dinner we were more or less successful in the kid & adult table distribution, though we ended up with both of the twins for the last third of our meal. Progress! Oh, and Joanna ate half her weight in chicken. Perhaps she’s about to grow another inch or five. It was fairly spectacular to see her plow all that food down. The twins are pretty little.

Bedtime was an experiment, as this is the first cousin sleepover here. It didn’t quite work out as planned, but we expected that. Nonetheless, I am feeling somewhat guilty, as my sister and Ted are each sleeping with a child, and here I am in the gigantic bed I was going to share with my sister by myself. Nonetheless, I am sure I will have some nighttime twin care to soothe my guilty conscience. If not, I’ll volunteer for morning duty so the two of them can sleep in. Hopefully the big girls won’t wake up at 5 am.

Here’s to friendship and conversation. They are two of the things that make my world go around.

The oversimplified Law Of Consequences under which we operate

The Law Of Consequences. It sounds so straightforward, reasonable, linear, just, doesn’t it? We like to think it makes sense. We talk of natural consequences, i.e., my kid forgot to turn in his homework, and so he’ll learn responsibility by finding out that means he’ll fail this assignment and get a lower quarter grade. It is comforting to think that the universe apportions out an appropriate result for every wrong choice, exactly calibrated so the individual so afflicted can learn from his/her mistakes.

It so doesn’t work that way. The god of consequences is fickle, unpredictable, inattentive and hyper-focused by turns, and not at all run by the linear thought patterns of which we are so fond.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of measuring our responses by the magnitude of the consequence we have felt, instead of by the mistake we feel we have made. And so consequences can be experienced as terrible, sometimes life-altering punishment (which, in shame and guilt we can feel we deserve) or, if there is no perceivable negative outcome to an action, we can feel justified in what we’ve done since “nothing bad happened”. (This is a common aspect of unexamined privilege: the guy who pushes his unwilling girlfriend to have sex, but doesn’t think it’s a problem, because she doesn’t complain, for example. He’s focused on the outcome he sees rather than the value of consent, and he misses truths about himself and her, as well as the pain he’s caused, as a result.)

In a prior relationship, my boyfriend had a cat I thought was sick. I put all my energy into trying to persuade him to take the cat to the vet; so much so, that it literally didn’t occur to me that I could do it myself. That was a mistake. The ultimate result was that the cat died, despite my trying desperately, via forced feedings and fluid injections, to save his life. The guilt I felt was astronomical. Such pain. And in the extremity of the moment, I turned my mistake into a gigantic crime of moral dimensions, and beat myself up with it. It took me such a long time to grow and move through that. The little cruel god in my head told me, sneering gleefully, that I deserved the pain, because I had done something so stupid and unforgivable. My therapist gave me the gift of seeing how very small that god is, no matter how vindictive, and that I could look beyond it to other realities and other ways of seeing.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t help our children to help themselves, to learn for themselves, to experience and experiment with life, and, so importantly, to allow them to fail, repeatedly. I fail repeatedly in ways large and small. But one thing that I have been learning is that my life doesn’t have to be defined by my failures or my successes. I don’t have to interpret their existence as proof either that I am a Bad Mother, a Bad Person, a criminal deserving of the universe’s retribution, or a Hero, a Special Snowflake, or a model citizen deserving the universe’s praise. The picture is a mixture. It’s complex, multi-faceted, not a matter for measuring and judging.

In fear, in grief, in anger, it is so easy to slide into making judgments about the actions of oneself and of others (particularly those closest to us) based on their perceived consequences. But when we do that we run the risk of not adequately assessing the impact we have and/or that others have on us; and also, of assigning blame and guilt inappropriately rather than viewing people and situations through the lens of compassion and love and looking for positive solutions.

And doing so makes it very hard to tolerate limbo, transition, or uncertainty.

Had I actually had something malignant in my breast last week, I would have assigned greater weight to my procrastination in the matter of scheduling a mammogram. Since it turned out to be nothing, it would also be easy to sweep the experience under the carpet, close my eyes, and pretend nothing had happened. I am going to opt for the middle course, and have a yearly mammogram from here on out. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to learn this lesson without the pain I could have experienced.

Getting older, I have been gradually learning to step back from the, “Well, you should have known/what a stupid mistake; of course x thing happened/I deserved to be punished” responses. I am trying to focus instead on truth, compassion, and understanding as a way to see clearly and act lovingly so as to find positive ways to move forward. It’s a life-long spiritual task. But as I make progress down this road, I start to feel better; at once more accepting of my lack of control, and aware that I have more mastery and choice available to me than I have believed to be true.

A creative weekend of writing and playing

What a weekend! I spent Friday through Sunday morning at a resort with my critique group. The weather was incredible: we had clear blue skies and water of so crystal a quality that the reflections mirrored almost exactly the sky and clouds above. The community was even more incredible. There’s no topping time with friends that involves conversation that weaves through humor, into depths of feeling, and through analysis of the creative process.

I got another scene done, and then a good chunk of an outline, as well as the end of the book. There are still big holes I have to fill, but I’m getting a better sense for the overall picture, and that feels very good.

I made some more movement forward in my own process, too, toward self-love and compassion. It’s easier to think when you’re not surrounded by kids who need things from you, and you can have not just one, but several conversations with adults, time to breathe, time to relax. One evening I went for a swim, and walking over to the pool through the crisp clean air, looking at the stars above, I realized that I was feeling a peace and ease in my own company that was soothing and joyful at the same time.

When I got back home, Ted and I took the kids for a walk, and then to a park. It was that magic time of day when the light glows and the colors are rich and alive. The twins set off across the field and I went with them. We climbed a big hill, got up on top of big rocks, listened to a woodpecker, admired the sky, and enjoyed each other’s company.

And, after we got them down for the night, I had a quartet rehearsal. We did all Haydn tonight. We were cold and out of it when we started, and the thing bumped and bumbled along, but it was a very productive session, and by the end we were sounding downright musical. Three of the four of us are quite vivacious, and we tend to increase that tendency in each other, so rehearsals sometimes have a quite enjoyable element of hilarity. We’re going to record everything next week so we can discover all the myriad of things we need to improve before our concert. That will be sobering, I am sure, but I am also sure we’ll hear some beauty.

I am endlessly grateful for the fact that I have such a vibrant creative life. I am grateful for my ability to play, and to write, and for the opportunities I have for collaboration with others. Those are wonderful gifts.

love, memory, long friendship

I talked to a college friend this evening, a guy I met when we lived on the same hall my sophomore and his freshman year. I don’t have a great memory for some things. When I went back to my college for my 20th reunion a few years ago, I found I’d forgotten vast swaths of events, people, history. It was more than a little embarrassing to realize, and I spend some time castigating myself for my lack of brain, lack of heart, whatever. But there are so many factors that impact memory, including how many places one lives, and a whole host of emotional/psychological experiences and attitudes, and I have been learning to accept this about myself. Part of that acceptance means that I am attempting to live more fully in the moments I am inhabiting, both so I can experience them more fully and so, perhaps, I will remember them more completely.

I’ve thought about how memory impacts intimacy especially since having children. My first years with my first child were so surreal; I was blissfully in love with someone whose every movement captivated me, and who would not and will not remember in any sense I understand as an adult the content of that time. And yet, I posit and hope that the feeling of it will remain with her on some level.

Similarly, there are those friendships and relationships one has which seem to exist outside the effects of time. The timber of that particular person’s voice, the feel of a loved person’s arms about you, the unique combination of scent and pheromones that tell you on some level of your brain, “lover” or “friend”, no matter the years that have passed, the conversations that haven’t taken place, the experiences not shared.

I have no idea how my friend C and I started talking, back when we were in college. I just remember the tone of some of our conversations: close, intimate, mutually supportive. I haven’t seen him in almost a decade. I have missed him. We messaged the other day, and his sense of humor struck the same sparking laugh from me. We’re older, somewhat wiser. It is a privilege to see a person grow and change, learn, mature, become more and more fully themselves. I will never cease to be grateful for old friends, for close friends, for the time over which we get to know each other in different ways. He and I have both experienced significant and wild changes over the past few years. I look forward to hearing the next chapter in his life, and sharing mine. It doesn’t matter that I don’t remember a lot of what happened in the few years we were in college together. What matters is our fundamental human connection, that attraction of soul to soul which forms the foundation of a friendship like that.

There is so much love in the world. I try to remember that when feeling despair over all the hatred, malice, deliberate ignorance, indifference. There is also love.

Love poetry, of a spiritual nature

I am thankful for my friends every day. Some days the gifts I receive from them are so plentiful, important, and life changing I give thanks with an even more passionate heart.

For most of my life I have had an allergic reaction to anything smacking of religion. The idea of a soul never made sense to me. The word “God” gave me the heebee jeebees. As I have gotten older, I have gotten more comfortable with not knowing, with mystery, with a lack of clear answers, with feeling and intuition, and with receiving wisdom from different sources and in different presentations.

After a pivotal and emotionally powerful conversation with my friend P today, about love, self-love, wounds, grief, and healing, she sent me the following poems. I share them in case anyone else resonates with them and finds them useful. “My Eyes So Soft” is particularly moving for me, as loneliness is something I experience as being so painful, and have since I was a little kid. One of my big emotional/psychological/spiritual/life tasks is to be with myself, gently, without judgment, without trying to change my own feelings in an effort to be more comfortable or happy. “I shouldn’t feel x way” is one way in which I make myself not ok with being me.

If I can learn to be more comfortable with my emotional realities, then I suspect I’ll be more comfortable with my kids’, too. So this is for me, and it is for them.

—–
NOW IS THE TIME

Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

A CUSHION FOR YOUR HEAD
Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.
Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.
You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

MY EYES SO SOFT
Don’t
Surrender
Your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more
Deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice so
Tender,
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.

STAY WITH US
You
Leave
Our company when you speak
Of shame.
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern sad.
Stay with us
As we do the hardest work of rarely
Laying down
That pick and
Shovel
That will keep
Revealing our deeper kinship
With
God,
That will keep revealing
Our own divine
Worth.
You leave the company of the Beloved’s friends
Whenever you speak of
Guilt,
And this makes
Everyone in the Tavern
Very sad.
Stay with us tonight
As we weave love

And reveal ourselves,
Reveal ourselves

As God’s precious
Garments.

MANY LIVES AGO
Your tastes have become refined.
It used to be
If someone stole all your coins
Or locked your sexual pleasures in a room
You could not reach
This world would have no meaning
And a thirst for a hemlock brew
Might arise.
But that was many lives ago.

Now look at yourself:
You are often still a mess
Though these days,
At times,

You weep because
You miss
God.

It might be a cyst, and other stories

So, this morning it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard back from the Radiology Department. They’ll call if anything’s wrong, I thought. But maybe I’ll call this afternoon just to check, I thought.

This afternoon the Radiology Department called me. There was an area of “increased density” in my right breast. It might be a cyst. They wanted me to come in for an ultrasound. There was an appointment open an hour later, and I took it. There is a family history of breast cancer on my mom’s side, and it’s something I’m a bit paranoid about.

There commenced one fairly painful ultrasound exam, a second less painful ultrasound, and then another set of mammograms later. One of the less fun aspects of the whole experience was the way different people talked about different breasts (“It’s the right breast,” from one person, and “It’s the left breast” from another), and I started to wonder. In the middle of these proceedings there was a discussion about if the lumps (as they were being called) looked suspicious we’d either do a biopsy or wait six months to see what happened.

However, it turns out to have been nothing, just the intersection of two structural pieces of my breast. On both sides. Apparently this is a not uncommon occurrence on the occasion of a woman’s first mammogram, as there is no baseline yet.

Once it was over and I was safely in my own space (my car), I started to react. I was more scared than I had realized through the procedures.

I am deeply grateful that it was nothing. I am also deeply grateful for my community, and for my friend M who texted me all throughout, offering support & love and talked to me afterwards.

And thank goodness I didn’t have to wait through the weekend, but could get in and get it done and find out all in one short couple of hours.

Thank you, universe.