Archive for February, 2014

Sometimes Words Kind of Fail

Well, guys, so much for having a gentle, easy, peaceful year where I can savor and ever-so-thoughtfully and mindfully take in my experiences. I’ve drafted about five different entries to post in the past week and a half…and none of them quite work. They don’t speak to the truth of what’s going on in my life now, which is really just so much tumult. Work tumult, love tumult, health tumult: please, gods and spirits above, just keep my family out of it and I’ll be a grateful creature.

So I’ll just stick to minutiae now. I’ve taken to working at my kitchen table, so I can soak up the morning sunlight. The table is covered with books, a pot waiting to grow sunflowers, a lemon-and-mint candle. The shoe rack by my door is heaped with all the boots I own. I love my boots and coats, but I’ve been wearing them since November and I’m anxious to be wearing something new. I’m anxious for a new spring to start. In the mail I got a new American Apparel dress, and I have to admit, I’m excited to wear it in the spring and summer. It’s pretty hot.

There’s a college catalog within arm’s reach, and I have classes circled: a drawing class, a class on doing alterations, and a class on foraging in the wild for edible plants. I know I should be taking the classes on Javascript and other types of computer-y/Web-y things, but right now my heart wants things that feel concrete, that feel of paper and hands and honest labor. I want something new to learn, something where I’m a total beginner, unmoored yet excited by the open plain in front of me.

It looks really peaceful and quiet here, but the music is turned up super-loud. Music is kind of the subconscious of my life now, and I like anything with a super-heavy, slamming bottom end that makes the room rattle. Lots of old-school dub, still the Beyonce album (“Partition” on rotate, thanks), some crazy Juicy J song my sister sent me. I still got a riotous side to me. I guess it’s been pretty muted in the past few years, but I think it’s ready to come back out soon.

And writing. I’ve been pecking away at a novel since November, and it’s hitting that crucial last-quarter when the speed picks up and crashes towards the final resolution. I cheated on my novel and started a short story last weekend, and I’m about to finish it later tonight. In a way, I know there’s something right about everything happening, but it’s like some floodgate in me has been opened up and the imagination is gushing out.

You know, I do feel, strangely, that I’ve managed to hold onto my equanimity through everything happening — to find that still point in the turning world. Not to say that I don’t feel angry or sad or overwhelmed through it all, but underneath there’s a river of calm. A long time ago I realized what I loved most in my life, my purpose, and accepted within me the imperatives that I need in this lifetime to flourish and flower. Not much can unseat such things, which is why they are so worth discovering and accepting.

The Compass That Keeps Me Pointed North in the Journey Towards Love

20140214-102259.jpgA few days ago, I was doing some work at a local Panera (I KNOW) when this elderly couple at the table next to me sat down. They didn’t have a sense of being an old married-type of couple — you know, how people start to walk alike and have the same rhythm and expressions, a very settled shared pace and ease. This couple had kind of a nervous, curious energy together, like they were new to each other in some way.

I’m a big observer of people — a more polite way to say I’m freaking nosy as hell! — so I caught bits of their conversation. They were on a first date! I tweeted how cute and adorable they were, of course, because I am a semi-jerk sometimes that way. But they really were super-cute: they were laughing and giggling, and had that kind of eagerness universal to enjoyable early dates. They asked one another those get-to-know-you questions; they made awkward jokes; they took delight in their shared ideas and sensibilities. (Apparently they both loved “The Love Boat” back in the day.)

But as their date went on, I realized this wasn’t like any typical first date, those kinds where you present your best face, share your life resumes (“I climbed Kilimanjaro!” “Well, I lived in Paris!”), show off on what books you read, bands you love, movies you watch. As they shed their initial shyness, they went beautifully deep, in a way that perhaps only people who have rich wells of life experience can go. They both talked about their children, their former marriages — both had spouses that had died in recent years — their childhoods growing up on farms.

But it wasn’t just sharing information, or even opinions or stories — they shared feelings and emotions. What they learned and how they grew from experiences. Regrets and disappointments they had. What brought them genuine satisfaction and happiness. What they still hoped for and dreamed about. Maybe it was their age, and you get to a point where you’ve seen so much; you have nothing to hide, and don’t have time to play games. But they were just so present with each other.

I listened to the voices and I was struck less and less by what they talked about than how they sounded: calm, clear, trusting, honest, with no sense of playacting, pretense, or protection. They just had this hopeful, serene openness with one another. Not “take it or leave it,” but more “This is who I am, for better or worse; I hope you like it.”

It was inspiring to see these two people, clearly in the autumns of their lives, still searching, hoping and reaching for the possibility of love. It made me think of a Rumi quote I stumbled across a few weeks ago:

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

When I first read that, I thought, “How is such a thing possible?” I mistook barriers for character flaws, I suppose, like the things about yourself that would keep yourself from being loved if anyone found out about them.

But removing barriers isn’t erasing all these supposed imperfections to finally be perfect enough for love — an impossible task, I think. Barriers arise from the impulse to hide, to not tell the full truth about yourself, to pretend to be something we are not. I’ve been thinking a lot about love, and about how we hide parts of ourselves in order to find or hold onto it: our shames, our fears, our anger, our darkness, what we really think and feel. Love is hard sometimes, and it’s easy to give up, to hide behind a shell, or to settle for less or take it for granted. We are often vulnerable and fearful creatures, and we protect ourselves with destructive beliefs — but at the same time, we keep ourselves from experiencing genuine intimacy. Not just with romantic partners, but with friends, family, and maybe even ourselves.

But in their gorgeous, brave openness, honesty and emotional generosity, this silver-haired couple was the closest Rumi-like ideal that I’ve seen in real life. Here were two people, still endearingly shy and nervous, but brave enough to be more than brightly festooned, highly defended fortresses we tend to be with each other. It was a beautiful thing to see and be inspired by, especially so close to Valentine’s Day.

I’m sure if their love story continues, they’ll hit roadblocks and have their spats, arguments and misunderstanding — but both of them seemed to have arrived at a place of peace and self-acceptance with themselves, and now they’re at the point where they can possibly converge. I hope, wherever they are, they’re having a lovely Valentine’s Day.

And I hope — single or taken, young or old, rich or poor — you are, too! So: Happy Valentine’s Day! May the richness of the human heart lead you to love, light and liberation.

All the Winter Ponies


I was recently lamenting to a friend that I hadn’t gone horseback riding in two weeks because of the weather, and she was surprised. “You’re still riding, when it’s all cold and snowing all the time?” she asked. As if a little cold and snow would stop me! But lots and lots of snow, along with subzero temps…well, there’s dedication and then there’s dangerous, I suppose.

Still, it’s not easy. Forget the long rides of the summer — within an hour my toes are frozen and I can’t feel my hands, no matter how many gloves or socks I wear. Your body feels so much stiffer and it takes me forever to loosen up and find my rhythm. And of course there are the horses — they’re either cold and don’t want to work, or they are so anxious to get and keep moving that they’re a little (or a lot) harder to handle. But I do love how fuzzy they get, with their fluffier winter coats and manes. (The little Shetlands get so fuzzy, they look like weird misshapen dogs in the cutest way possible.)

I was telling my father recently that riding was a form of meditation for me. You need absolute focus on your horse and on your form, a kind of awareness that is both vigilant yet relaxed. Your mind can’t wander on a horse because it will realize you aren’t paying attention and start doing whatever it wants. You really have to listen in a whole body-and-mind kind of way. I really miss that in the past few weeks — I’ve been meditating a little more in a traditional way, but it’s not just the same, though it’s nice in its own way, of course. I miss that feeling of everything non-essential just falling away, and it’s just me and the horse and the feeling of hurling through the air on its back.

And on some level, I miss my horse friends! Horses are not like other animals — they aren’t affectionate in the same way as, say, a dog or even a cat can be. They are magnificent, intimidating, self-possessed and powerful: there’s nothing cuddly about them. Relating to a horse at first is much more about being calm and confident and gaining their respect and trust. But then you get to know them and they trust you, they start to come to you when they see you, or nuzzle their noses against you looking for treats, or let you hug them around the neck. So I miss Ruby and her gentle patience, Lakota and her mischievous curiosity, Ladybug and her energy, and Hondo and his watchful intelligence and eagerness to please. They feel like friends now, or at least comrades in my quest for a good ride. Not seeing them makes me a little sad.

The last time I rode, I groomed Ruby, brushing down her toasty red coat and blonde mane. Horses eat so much in the winter — digesting food keeps them warm by raising their body temperatures — and she was bulkier than she was in the summer, and I could feel the stiffness in her muscles as I brushed her out. The ground in the indoor area was still hard and semi-frozen, so we couldn’t canter, but we did sustain a trot for a good 10-15 minutes. (Which, frankly, is eeeyowza on your bottom! But in a Pilates-painful kind of way.) I did OK with just making her mind me, considering how rapidly the temperature was dropping. But we had to stop early because I lost feeling in my toes, and instead of that calm, purposeful peacefulness I feel after a ride, I still felt restless, like there was energy inside of me still waiting to be ridden out.

When I drove home from the barn, surrounded by countryside blanketed in snow against an equally grey-white sky, it felt like I was driving right into a blankness. I kept thinking of Sylvia Plath and her horse, Ariel, whose name graces her famous poem. Plath rode regularly when she was a student in England, and apparently once her horse bolted, her stirrups fell off and she rode two miles clutching its neck until it stopped. I kept thinking of the “…Red/Eye, cauldron of morning” stanza, and the poem’s evocation of how terrifying yet alive the act of riding can be. I imagined myself on a horse, hurling towards the farthest point of infinity on the winter horizon, willing the cold and the wind and the snow to end — because I miss riding in the open air, at full speed, losing worries and gaining pieces of my self all at once.