Everything and Nothing 12 hours of depressive awareness

It is 4:32 and I am lying awake, tender like a bruise.

At the meditation/writing retreat I sat on my computer and broke its casing. It lost the small screws that held its sleek aluminum back on and there is a small crack that is open to its insides. It is hard to see but I know it is there.

Leo brought my laptop with him on our vacation and after a bit of using it it’s fan wouldn’t shut off and it became hot, almost scorching to the touch. We unplugged it and it cooled off. But the battery was broken so without its connection it was useless.

I relate to the computer.

I have felt the depression coming and have tried to ward it off. Steve is gone for the week and I am going to have to be very careful if I want to get through this without having it effect the boys. I look at my calendar and try to find a time to see a friend each day. Taking a walk or eating lunch out, anything that keeps me from my bedroom helps. If I go through the motions of my life sometimes I surprise myself and show up in it.

I ask a friend to have lunch and her text back is brief. “I can’t. Too many errands.” What is this? I asked myself with fondness. She is such a grownup. I would never let errands get in the way of lunch. I can’t even imagine what these errands might be. They sound sort of good though. Maybe I need some errands.

Once upon a time there were errands. When I was a little girl, little enough to sit in the back seat of whichever incarnation of Volvo we drove, I went with my mother on her errands. Lying awake in the middle of the night trying to get back to sleep I reconstruct our route.

In my memory it is chilly outside and my breath is fogging up the window of the car window. She tells me to stop as I trace a heart in the mist, giving it two dots for eyes and a smile. She is worried that it will leave smudges and she is right. When it dries off I can see other hearts, older, marking the glass.

We start at the dry cleaner. Well, we start by circling he block several times looking for a place to park. We are in newton center, newton is a suburb 7 miles west of Boston large enough to have 13 of these little clusters of shops and restaurants (quaintly called villages) but this, true to its name, is the biggest. It is shaped like a large triangle made up of several blocks. There is a T stop here and I watch people trudging up the old steps from the train. The old railway station is large and beautiful but it is locked. This is before the time of reclamation and at least a decade before Starbucks will have lines out the doors. Instead the lines are at the payphones.

My mother has not found a place to park. She is swearing softly. “Can you just wait with the car?” She asks. I nod solemnly as if I could possible move the car if needed and sit tall in my seat. She double parks to run into the dry cleaner and I wait. Alert. Each car that passes us has to slow and some shake their heads at me. We are stopped in the exact spot that my father will park in years later and have his car stolen. He left it running, driver door open, to grab a coffee from the shop that doesn’t exist yet. The thief just got in and drove away. The police caught him before we could even file the report. He got pulled from the car so quickly that he left his butter soft leather gloves behind. When my father held them up triumphantly I understood his pleasure, the thief’s error would trump his own in the retelling.

Today I am safe. No one wanted the Volvo.

My mother has the rear driver door open trying to loop the many metal handles onto the impossibly small plastic hook. She is rushing. When she finally gets them in the clothes are bulky enough to be the size of another person riding next to me. My brother, I decide, someone who would not have been nervous about the other drivers making their way around us while we are double parked.

Now we have gone down the steep section of the road to the bank. This was he age before direct deposit but after the drive through window was installed. The sweet days of banking. Our bank is the first to install a second and third lane that are serviced by a giant vacuum/tube  system. I wanted to be the one to take the Jetson’s like canister out of the tube. I crawled into the front seat and leaned over my mother. She tolerates this. When I roll open the lid there is a white envelope filled with crisp bills. Even better there is a lollipop.


Next I wait for her to get electrolysis.  I sit in the small room, legs sticking to the padded vinyl chairs, picking chocolates out of a small bowl. I hear murmurs in a Russian accent and a Zap. My mother has been at war with a small handful of hairs on her chin. I am mystified by these hairs. Sometimes she has me look for them because they are too difficult to see. In my middle age I will understand the zap of the machine, know the taste of metallic saliva, and smell the burn. The electrolysis will not work for me either.

From here we go to the Chinese Laundry. This is the precursor to strip malls with beautiful brick and decorative parapets. My favorite Jewish bakery is here but my mother will get to smell its yeasty warmth as she picks up bagels and thin sliced rye. I am holding tight the paper ticket for the shirts. I walk down the stairs to an indoor alley. There is a loud bell as I use my full weight to push open the glass door. It is a good thing there is a bell because I am too small to see over the counter. My hand, clutching the tickets so fiercely that the paper has begun to sag with sogginess reaches up, but my face is pointed at raw wood wainscoting. I can see the staples where it is held together. The man, whose name my mother knows, exchanges the ticket for the shirts, plucking it carefully from my fingers. He offers me a mint which I take to be polite. The lollipop is waiting for me in the car. I carry the shirts carefully in both arms. They are wrapped in paper and crinkle pleasantly like a present.

My mother is not yet back to the car so I try to imagine her.  I picture a cake box in her arms, one that might contain rugelach, or black and white cookies. Decades after this my Methodist husband will bake rugelach for me to take to a Christmas cookie exchange. Today there will be no cookies.  Instead my mother comes out of the back door of the cobbler with two plastic bags in one hand with the bread and bagels. Shoe box in the other. I can smell the polish as soon as the door opens. I hold it all on my lap, shirts and shoes and bread and bagels.

I’ll drive slowly, she reassures me, as I try to keep our riches from sliding onto the floor. She is in a rush no more.

This bit of memory has centered me. Pun absolutely intended. You know why? Because when I am deeply depressed I don’t make jokes.  It is 5:26am  now and I am feeling better than I did just 12 hours ago. At dinner things were very quiet. Not a poop joke between us. Oliver, usually one to pose a question to debate, is picking at his chicken. I am sitting, missing Steve, gently poking at myself to see how sore I really am. I am worried that I am not doing well at all. “What’s wrong?” Leo asks, in a mixture of sympathy and accusation. “I’m not sure.” I tell him. “Everything and Nothing” is the answer I don’t want to burden him with. I want it to be a birthday, or 11:11 so I can squinch my eyes tight and wish him safe from these feelings or these lack of feelings or however this episode will play out. It is my most realistic fear, that I will damage my boys with these feelings. Or these lack of feelings. Or however this episode will play out. I find  myself right on the edge of being able to help calm his concern, help myself, but I can’t. I imagine opening my arms to him, him sliding across the bench to me and everything feeling a bit better. I can see it because it has happened so many times before. I imagine over explaining something, like SSRIs and neurotransmitters, the way I do baby making and other things they ask about. I imagine his face opening in understanding and eventually in laughter as we take whichever science topic we are dissecting  from the rational to the absurd. Instead I look at him in silence. I can’t quite do anything for us now.

I stand and clear my plate and the boys follow me, somber, into the kitchen to clean. Leaving the downer dinner table things are immediately better for them. They decide on a game to play together and I can hear their voices still in the high pitches of boys even though they are not so little any more. I have done this for them at least. Even on days when Steve is away, and I am slipping, they have each other, a fraternity of two.

I make myself stay downstairs until 7 and I turn on music and do a crossword puzzle. I try to take in the velvet of the loveseat, running my fingers across it. I am proud of this find, dug out of the storage room of a vintage shop. Well cleaned it is a precious place in our living room. It has hosted family meetings, and many cuddles. The boys have napped and wrestled here. I try to hear the echoes of joy from our everyday life. My brain is working slowly, songs are playing but I only hear static.

It is 7:02 so I release myself. I am allowed to go to the bedroom. Walking through the barn door I reveal the bed which is  both a source of solace and of temptation to take a break from real life. I take a shower, I put on lotion. That is something that I do when I am not depressed. I have on new pajamas. They have stars on them that are so small that I keep trying to brush them off thinking they are lint.

Very deliberately I pick up the tv remote and set it out of reach. I lift the covers and climb into bed. It is 7:30. I reach for my book and stretch my legs and tell myself that I have things under control. Oliver walks in a little early for reading and catches me with my eyes drooping at 7:45. “Maybe you are too tired to read?” He offers me the remote. “We finished our last book anyways.” I realize he isn’t trying to tempt me, but is arguing his own case. “Sure.” I tell him. “We can watch tv.” “Wha did you and Leo end up playing downstairs.” He looks at me with confusion. “When you two decided to play together after dinner, what did you do?” “Oh, nothing, Leo wanted to play with his online friends.” He is not even the tiniest bit upset by this. This is standard. I watch him as he navigates the list of shows we have already recorded. He is tan from vacation despite sunscreen, he is here in my bed which for him is only comforting not a portal to a world apart. I try to breathe him in. “Do you mind if I scream?” He asks me and he is yelling YELLING. “LEO LE-OOOOOO.”

Leo tumbles onto the bed, fresh freckles highlighted by his grin. They are both laughing. They are fine. I haven’t broken them.

Now it is 6:04 am. I am giving up going back to sleep. It might be useful to blame my sluggishness on being tired rather than being depressed. I can hear Oliver in his bedroom, up before his alarm.  He is ready to get going on his day. A hallway away

I am looking ahead at the next 12 hours even if I am not looking forward to it. I can tell they are going to be better than the last 12. I will go through today slowly. I will brush my teeth and put on a bra. I will write and walk and meditative. I will follow up on some things for the school and run an evening meeting. After all of that I will come in the side door and the dog will pee himself with joy to see me. The boys will be happy too. They will have eaten pizza, the box still out but the counter beneath it will be clean. I’ll ask them about their days and Oliver will tunelessly sing a song from the musical he is stage managing and Leo will tell me about the 100% on the math test that I already know about. I will sit on the loveseat and one of them will make ice waters and another will sit with his legs on my lap. I will stroke his shins noticing that the hair has grown just the littlest bit thicker even though it is still golden blond. I will think that it feels even more beautiful than the velvet I am sitting one.

I will have a headache, I will be tired, I will miss Steve.

But I will be there in my life.

Which is certainly more everything than nothing.

The Buddha’s nipple

I have moved through the high mountain desert at a snail’s pace. Just this step I tell myself as my conditioning and the altitude argue that I should turn around. It is a short walk from where I am staying at the Shambhala Mountain Center for the retreat and still it is a long journey.

We are only in our second day and I have already learned a few important lessons. The first is that we can begin as many times as we need to. The second is that trying to write everything is probably trying to please everyone. Neither of these things are possible even with endless beginnings. Let that shit go. (I might have paraphrased) The third is that I want a heated towel warmer.

Our spartan room features mismatched threadbare towels that hang on a heated towel bar. Here at the buddhist retreat I have found a material good to covet. I can let go of this coveting. And I will. By buying one for myself.

On the path I pause to take a picture of the reverse footprints of the people who have been here before me. The ground is clear but the snow has stuck into the impressions that their feet made on the earth. I remember what our instructor said the first night. This place in steeped in Dharama. Here they may have stepped in Dharma.

On the hillside a woman sits in the sun looking out at the great Stupa. All who come here receive enlightenment. I’m paraphrasing again but in a less shitty way. Seeing her serene face in the light makes it seem possible. She is at least lit. Which is probably a key step to enlightenment. If there are steps at all.

Just this next step I tell myself as the sweat begins to bead on my brow. There is a group coming behind me. I remember what my new friend told me at lunch. “We each have to reach the Stupa in our own time. At our own pace.” I try not to hurry to keep ahead of them. They can pass me. I can simply step aside. We have been practicing letting things pass. As we sit in the shrine room we notice thoughts and emotions, label them “thinking” and return our observation to our breath.

Here is what my meditation sounds like:

Wow are my eyeballs dry? Thinking. Thinking is a verb. Thinking. But here it is a noun. Thinking. So like that other writer said it is a gerund. Thinking thinking thinking. Do verbs want to be nouns? It seems as though nouns would want to be verbs. Some nouns turn into super annoying verbs. Like adult turns into adulting. Ick. Wait, I shouldn’t be thinking ick. I shouldn’t be thinking shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be thinking. Thinking. I didn’t think my eyeballs could get any more dry. Thinking thinking thinking. I’ll just add in a few extra thinkings to plan ahead for my next thoughts. But the point of this is not to plan ahead. Thinking. Wait? Is that one of the ones I already had banked? Thinking. One extra can’t hurt.

On the path the group passes me by. This morning Susan told us that thoughts are famously compared to clouds. I got stuck on the word famously. Is that her way of avoiding naming the source? Perhaps I can use that in the future when I forget whose words I am using. Fourth thing learned. As I am stuck contemplating the use of the word famously she has continued. The clouds are like thoughts. None ever stay in place for long. So we should let them go. Today, she tells us, we are the sky, not the clouds.

Right now the sky is cloudless.

After just a few minutes more of walking I have shed my hat and unzipped my coat. The wind is cold on my chest and I imagine my heart closing against its gust. I try to unclench, to soften, but in the end I just hurry up.

Despite the rushing I still arrive.

I walk around the outside of the structure and feel like I could be in the middle east, or Greece. Something about the white plaster against the blue sky makes the Stupa feel out of place in this Colorado mountain range. But of course this is exactly where it belongs.

In meditation practice our instructor tells us that we can engage with the shrine in whichever way makes us most comfortable. We can bow or not, we can see it as our teacher, or not. Most of all we can see it as a reflection of ourselves. Our highest and best selves.

I like this, even though it makes me think of my time on Zillow where realtors encourage buyers to tear down right sized houses on generous lots because the “highest and best use” is for a four lot subdivision. They don’t need to tell me that these houses will be huge, overly ornate, with ceilings too high for furniture to fit. I just know.

This great Stupa would be the house of my nightmares. The floors are many colors of marble in a variety of patterns, the walls and ceilings are painted in garish colors. Niches are filled with art and flowers and requests for donation. And with butterscotch candies which may have some meaning or may not.

I am stopped for a minute thinking (thinking) of “may or may not.” Doesn’t “may” already have the “not” included in it? Have I been wasting two words for endless lifetimes? Maybe. Or maybe not.

After taking in his surroundings I allow my gaze to rest on the Buddha in front of me. He is golden. His eyes are cast down in the manner that I have been practicing for two days. And his nipple is out of place.

I am pretty sure that this is not the most common reaction to the sacred space. I have seen people enter and exit with placid faces and fluid movements. I try not to stare. I try not to catch anyone’s eye and gesture up at his nipple. In front of me people are sitting. Sitting in the Buddhist way with fierce back, soft hearts, and natural breath. I take a seat on the cushion and straighten my back. Before I find a place to settle and soften my gaze I peek up again. Yeah. His nipple is way too high.

“Thinking” I tell myself. And that thought floats away like a nipple shaped cloud in the sky.

I approach the statue to add my gratitude to the notes in the offering bowl. Thank you. I plan to write. Keep it simple. Despite this being a writing retreat here it is the feeling not the words that matter. Instead I find that the orange slip of paper reads. “Thank me.” I might understand this shrine. Even if I don’t know it. I write it again, one for him and one for me. We can thank each other.

As I leave I tell myself that next time I will see his eyes not his nipple. I remember the first lesson of meditation.

We have endless beginnings. 

I will need them all.

If you are wondering where to begin (again) I deeply recommend Susan Piver’s (our instructor on this retreat) approachable volume: Start Here Now.

Houston there is no problem- how to be ground control AND the astronaut

Space launchBeneath the noise of the coffee shop David Bowie sings.

He thinks his spaceship knows which way to go.

As I stand in line for my English Breakfast tea the barista admits that he front loads the playlist with his own choices and I see him in silent song daring Major Tom to leave the capsule.  I think about the amount of faith that is required for bravery. Major Tom needs to step outside his tin can to see the difference in the stars. He needs to trust ground control, himself and the entire universe.

Back at my sticky table I try to imagine 100,000 miles. It is unfathomable. And at the same time it is absolutely within reach. When I stop focusing on the literal fear of heights and vast space I thing about traveling to figurative heights. On any given day we are all both the ground control and the astronaut. Ground control focuses on protein pills, ignition, and circuits.  But it is the astronaut who floats in the most peculiar way.

When I read my boys “A Wrinkle in Time” I watch this transition happening. For the first few minutes they are ground control. Oliver stops my reading to try to make sense of the multi dimensions.  Leo offers his predications about what will come next. Eventually they give themselves over to the story. Instead of tracking facts and trends they are unmoored, left to fly away into the story.

This weekend we finally got them bikes that fit. As they check their helmets and practice their handsignals before they leave our driveway they are focused on safety. I hope that careful riding remains their focus, but somehow when they return I see the flush in their faces and I know that they achieved launch. I have mixed feelings about their mixed ride. I want them safe. I want them alive. Yet I also want them to live.

Despite the name ground control is never actually in control. Just look far above the moon at Major Tom floating in his tin can. Yet somehow, with nothing left to do, we can feel very still. Watching the barista turn dials and push buttons on his fancy coffee machine I see that at the same time he is lost in his music. He is both in control and floating above it all.Sometimes it is good be the astronaut. Sometimes it is good to be ground control. It is wonderful for us that we don’t need to choose.

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
Ground Control to Major Tom (ten, nine, eight, seven, six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (five, four, three)
Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (two, one, liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You’ve really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare
“This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles
I’m feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows
Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you “Here am I floating ’round my tin can
Far above the moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do”

-David Bowie


Getting off.

For the last decade of my father’s life he was a virtual shut it. He shuffled down the glass hallway between our house and studio in his slippers sloshing coffee as he went. By the end of each week it were as though our tiles were cow patterned with each brown splash on the white ceramic background. Each Thursday they were mopped clean leaving him a fresh palate for the upcoming days.

He wore a stretched grey sweatsuit and his sculpting assistant who camped in the loft above his gymnasium sized studio emerged each morning to do his bidding. Jaimie would take the crappy truck to the fancy store to buy soda and snacks and at the very end of my father’s life the cigarettes that probably played a part in killing him. On Tuesdays Jaimie would wake particularly early and roll our garbage cans down our long driveway so they could sit by the lake next to the tree that my father tried to kill to improve our water view.

My father’s few responsibilities were farmed out. The garbage was one of the last things remaining on his list so it was one of the first on Jaimie’s. Even as the margins of my dad’s physical life were shrinking his interior landscape grew.  He got off the treadmill of daily tasks while he got off on art.

A totally different kind of getting off. An early bronze of my father’s at our cape house.

As a child  I  attributed my father’s limited repertoire of foods and experiences to a great satisfaction that he got from his life of creation. He didn’t need outside input to inspire him. When he insisted I open and recycle the mail I celebrated my father’s ability to keep minutiae from distracting him from his calling. As I age I wonder about my interpretation of my father’s choices. My own life is shrinking. And not because of creative pursuits.

Now when Steve travels the mail accumulates in our hall closet.  When he retrieves it in a large stack my heart begins to race. Each envelope contains a possible task, a cost both literal and figurative. I imagine the envelopes flying towards us, debris to be dodged. I would rather they stay away.

When it is time to bring the garbage down our short driveway I wait for someone in our house with a Y chromosome to take it on its ride.

Steve drives. I ride.

I don’t love to drive. I don’t like to drive. I rarely drive. My father had three cars in the last 20 years of his life and he gave two of them away and died owning the third. Together he probably drove them once every two weeks. I still drive more than that, but it is not too much. I have a 2 mile radius in which I choose to spend 98% percent of my time. It includes both boy’s schools a coffee shop, doctor and dentist offices, the JCC, a trader Joe’s, a Target,  five restaurants, a strip club, and a pot shop. The last two are technically true but I don’t actually use them. They help me maintain the myth that my life is large enough. I mean, I can go to the chiropractor and see a woman’s bare back from the same parking spot. That is something.

I feel dizzy when I look at large spaces. The same vistas that I hiked towards as a 20 year old I now shy away from. Both then and now they remind me of my place in the world. Then I got off on an existential experience that left me swirling as one set of molecules in an unending sea of life and possibility. Now that same swirling feeling makes me feel sick,  a vertigo that leaves me unsteady on my feet. So I want to get off of them and onto the love seat in our living room where I am safe and still.

When I was a kid I raced down our wide staircase jumping the last 2 or 3 or 5 steps for a moment of flight. Walking down the gentle curved staircase this morning  I have to trail my hand against the wall. I still feel like I am flying, but off this earth. Ahead of me the dog runs with his curved tail and I am spiraling in the spiral of the stairs on the spiraling orbit of our planet. Sometimes I need to stop halfway down to keep upright. Then the dog twists to look back at me urging me forward so he can pee. He is more practical than me.

Today I feel two kinds of movement. The earth as it rotates and arcs through the galaxy and the responsibilities of life that move forward like a conveyor belt. Right now they both seem too much for me. I wonder about my father. Did he get off the moving walkway to make space for his own pursuits, or was he simply afraid the way I am. Did he stop seeing his place in the world as endlessly possible and instead see it as endlessly impossible?

Maybe he made his circle smaller and smaller until it was the dot of our house so the movement all around him was harder and harder to perceive and finally it was stilled. Perhaps he was looking for a way to get off.

Maybe I am doing the same thing. Fewer tasks, fewer places, less looking out and up and around.

Last night I dreamt that I was driving on an elevated road. My car was moving quickly around bends and up and down slippery tracks covered with moss and bordered with branches. I came to a clearing and the Taj Mahal glistened under the sun. It was a crisp contrast to the dripping green on my path. I had made it there. To the other side of the earth. And I had driven myself. Then I turned around and the road seemed treacherous. How had I possibly ridden this raised highway at full speed. I wanted to get off. I looked back at the Taj Mahal and then forward at the track which now seemed impossibly narrow. Then I was moving again and the earth was moving too. Surprisingly for some moments our motion worked in perfect offset and I felt still. Suddenly Steve was beside me, reaching his hand through my car window for me to grab. So I got moving again to the top of the mossy hill. I looked down at the world below, the arc of the earth and I felt afraid.

But I also felt ready to go.

So I let go of his hand.

And sped down with my stomach in my throat, the wind in my hair and my house in sight. For just a moment I was not looking to get off.



Mindfulness- the utter misery of being awake

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

Next to me Steve rolls over to bury his good ear in the pillow. He clutches the comforter and pulls it to his face to better create a cocoon.

He is not a morning person.

I have been awake for an hour but just like my husband I am not quite conscious. Despite weeks of morning meditation my first instinct is still to hit the mute button.

I have my phone in my hand flipping through the color coded screens in an attempt to distract myself from me. Earlier this year I removed candy crush in all of its incarnations in an effort to tune in rather than tune out. I loaded Duolingo and TED, I re-upped my subscription to Lumosity and figured that upgrading my apps would turn mindlessness into mindfulness. So far that has not proven true.

I have chronic shoulder pain. Most of the time I brace against it, hold my breath and create tightness from head to toe. There are some magical moments when I accept the pinch. When I breathe into it and allow myself to notice the feelings in full force. This always helps ease the pain. When I think I am protecting myself by ignoring what is happening in my body in fact I am doing the opposite, giving the pain the power.

Most of the day I rush through things to get to the next step. I brush my teeth for not quite the two recommended minutes because who has the patience for that. I tug up the bed covers too close to the pillows then too far to the foot and then back again like that time in 8th grade when I cut my own bangs.

I scurry down the stairs to make breakfast and race to unload the dishwasher before the water for my tea boils. I always lose. Always. And start my day as a labelled loser. Then I cram things into my back pack and speed walk to the coffee shop where I open my computer. And so it goes from there one step to the next rushing to nowhere from nothing all in an attempt to ignore whatever pain may be beneath my skin.

Just like Steve I create a cocoon, buffering myself from thoughts that might be painful and the misery of being awake.

But really it is only the crack in things that lets the light in.

So yesterday I took my time getting ready for my mammogram. I figured if I could stay in the moment while my boobs were being smooshed I really could be present for anything. I appreciated the warmed puke pink gown. I joked with my fellow waiting room lady about wearing the same outfit. I noticed how clean the hallway was and made myself a peppermint tea.

In the room I kept my breathing even as my armpit was impaled by a cold plastic shelf and my breast was flattened into a crepe. Because those are even skinnier than pancakes. Then it was over and I was walking home uphill in the 74 degree sun. I walked slowly to avoid losing my breath.

It is not so scary going slowly.

This morning I think back on my leisurely walk in the sunshine. Next to me Steve rolls over and opens his eyes just a bit and lets the light shine in.

Wondering what got me motivated to stay in the moment?

7 minutes in presence, a story of first time meditation

This is the second day of my mindfulness training. I am practicing Awareness (capital intended), with a gentle pushing away of thoughts of the past, future or judgment. In the past I have tried to integrate meditation and yoga into my life but I have not managed to. It seems I am not able to stick with this practice. I know I will have quit this effort by tomorrow. Now I will gently push those sentences aside and focus on my healing breathe. What’s that smell? Dog fart?

I begin with three sun salutations. I spread my toes and felt the floor supporting me and pushed aside thoughts of what the grit on my mat might be. It is of no consequence in this moment. I lift my arms to the sky with a deep inhale and fold close against my legs with an exhale. And a shriek. The small dog jumped up and grabbed my middle finger in his mouth like his newest chew toy. I knew what I could do with my middle finger. No time for that in this moment though. Inhale jump to plank. Or is it exhale. Wait. I am not breathing trying to figure out my breath. I have been in plank too long. I suck at sun salutation. No, I do not suck, I have opportunity to learn and grow. But that learning will be in the future and I am in the present so I guess I shouldn’t be thinking that now. Wait. No “shoulds”. Argh. No judgement about should. Double argh no “nos”. Forget it.

Exhale press to downward facing dog. As I hold for five cycles of breathe the little beastie comes below me and stretches into his own down dog. As he looks up at me I felt a connection between the two of us and the power (but a gentle power) of my yoga practice. He too must feel a connection because he yelps right in my face. Is dog yelping in down dog on an inhale or an exhale? I can’t figure it out. With each salutation he joins me in down dog first stretching then barking more and more loudly. As he is always in the moment I decide he can be my guide. And he decides to bite my hair. Tomorrow I will wear a hair tie. Shit. I shouldn’t be planning for tomorrow. Fuck. I shouldn’t say shit.

Now it is time for meditation practice. I will make time for myself, to nourish myself and create more spaciousness for the activities of my day. As I take a comfortable seated position the dog decides my lap will be a spacious spot for the activities of his day. Which currently include chewing in a sloppy yet chalk grating way on his dog bone. This bone is made up of pressed animal parts and smells like urea as he makes progress on its length. It also creates a wet gooeyness with has the texture of bread dough if bread dough was made up of dead animal pee.

Enough of that. I will need to find a more accepting word than enough. Tomorrow.

I gently set aside those thoughts and celebrate the opportunity he is offering me. I can practice letting go of the sound of his chewing, the smell of urea , and the feeling of him squirming on my lap to gain a better position in which to massacre his bone. This is excellent. I wonder if I am allowed positive judgment. I imagine not. Acceleration is not simply forward. There is negative acceleration as well. It is that way with judgement. I will let go of judgement. I will drop it like a hot coal. I will try not to burn my rug.

I listen to the woman’s voice on my Mindfulness app and let her lead me into a relaxed but alert state. I wonder if she had trouble on dates, if the sound of her soothing voice puts her partner in a trance. Maybe all she can talk about is breathing. If she were soothing and boring would she even have any friends? Well damnit I will be her friend. I will allow her to talk to me about acceptance and whatever else she wants. I will welcome it and make space for it. I will even pay her five dollars a month to do so. So quickly into our new relationship see tells me she would see me tomorrow and leaves me with the closing bell.

It is time for me to go at it alone. I am enough for myself. Everything that I need is already inside me. Except maybe my breakfast. But that is for later.   I search my phone for the timer app forgetting ONCE AGAIN that it was right at the bottom of the screen hiding under the name “clock”.  So tricky. I set it to 15 minutes. Then dial it back to 12. Then 8. Then because I like odd numbers I settled at 7 minutes. 7 minutes of presence.

I am still in a comfortable seated position albeit with one numb leg. I figure this gives me a leg up on ignoring the dog’s squirming because I can only half feel him. I gently bring my attention to my breathe and just as gently bring my attention from the idea that this could become a blog post. Could it be funny? Can someone at peace with themselves be funny? Shit. I am on breathe number 21. The practice is to reset at 10. 22. Why can’t I stop this? 25. OK. 1. My breath is so smooth. It is hear to support me just like the ground beneath my legs. Which I am totally not thinking about while I should be concentrating on my breath. Should. Shouldn’t this be over by now? Trust yourself. I tell me. The session will end at exactly the right time. But…surely this has been too long. I must not have started the Timer. I’ll just take a peek. Instead I gently bring my attention back to my breathe. 14, 15. No, no. 1. 2. Ahh…I am no longer worried about whether or not the timer is on. I can notice and set aside my worry. I am great at this. I can stay here all day. I could stay here forever. I might have reached enlightenment and freedom. Has anyone every done this so quickly? Did I win meditation?

I open one eye to check the timer. It is counting down. 2:17 2:16. So wait…I have been sitting here for less than five minutes? Maybe I should stop for now. As my soothing friend tells me my breath will be with me always. I can tune into it at any moment.

Clearly a dog bone is needed for meditation So in this moment I bend over my lap and the dog stretching my head forward towards the earth that gives us life. And rest my forehead directly on the cold wet dog bone.

Which I not so gently push away.

No more f’ing stuff. Holiday shopping for kids who have what they need

g8oopghaday-markus-spiskeIf your house is like mine you navigate a Lego minefield and dine amongst art supplies. You sniff stuffed animals for cat pee, refold unworn sweaters and search fruitlessly for the dice of a thousand board games.

We don’t need any more stuff.

Yet the season of giving is steamrolling towards us. Our house features both eight nights of Hannukah and a visit from Santa. This means we are overcome with 9 days of wrapping paper and stuff to store and ignore.

This year things are going to be different.

With the exception of two Wii games and a six pack of socks every gift we are giving will be an experience.

I hit Groupon to get some ideas and some deals, and then looked a little closer to home. Here are twenty gifts my kids will be getting this year. None of which require batteries. Some of which are even free.

These cost some cash…but perhaps we would have spent it anyways.

  • Nerf battle for six.
  • Tickets to Star Wars.
  • An hour of snow tubing.
  • Sponsoring an animal in danger of extinction.
  • Upgrading to Sketch it Pro.
  • Having a star named after you.
  • Donating to your favorite Minecraft Youtuber so you get a higher rank. Whatever that means.
  • Giving a book to your school library in your name.
  • Giving you $25 to donate to a cause of your choosing. Which might or might not be your brother. (Like last year.)

The best of the bunch (free for you and me.)

  • A weeknight sleepover.
  • Getting to sleep in the big bed.
  • Ice cream for dinner.
  • A week off of contributions.
  • Breakfast in bed.
  • Bringing a friend skiing.
  • Two hours of your mom’s time to teach her Pokemon.
  • Having both parents watch Ant-Man with you.
  • Camping in the yard with your dad.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to everything on the list, but I will appreciate not having to clean up after any of them.

This post was previously published on Parent Co.

Open mouth insert foot.

I started my day on Twitter searching the #Wednesdaywisdom hashtag. I can’t imagine a better place to feel uplifted in 140 characters than on my least favorite social media site. Despite my specific search I was not looking for affirmation or tips on mindfulness. I wasn’t looking for something to inspire me…but something to mock.

As is so often the case that something turned out to be me.

Today’s tweet of choice.

When people are speaking seriously to me about mental illness or infertility I manage to keep my mouth shut and listen. I have learned not to spill over on top of their words to show understanding. I have learned that for the most part people are looking for sympathy rather than solutions.

Yet when it comes to casual social situations I am much less mindful. (See I need to pay a ton more attention to Wednesdaywisdon.)

I quickly found this helpful pneumonic. THINK. First of all this supposes that don’t use speaking as a way to find out what I think. My inner monologue is crowded by thoughts of eating. There is no time to have rich interior discourse. It is why I blog. I never know what I THINK until I say or write it. Already I am at a disadvantage when applying this particular #WednesdayWisdom.

Here are three things I said at parties four analysis. Writing and remembering them makes me cringe. Somehow though I persist with commenting on things that aren’t quite my business.

This is not the wig. Because there was no wig.

Introduced to a neighbor within two minutes of conversation I asked. Is that a wig?

(T) true. Who knows, that why I was asking.

(H) Helpful. Decidedly not. Although in my addled brain I thought if she WAS living through a medical problem that would result in a wig she might want to talk about it with an inebriated stranger.

(I) Inspiring. Yeah. No.

(N) Necessary. As necessary as that famous fishes bicycle.

(K) Kind. My motivation was to show what a straight shooter I was and give her a chance to chat about something super personal. Is that kind? No.

The outcome? It is NOT a wig. So I pretty much insulted her hair. We have managed to work through it though. Mostly because I try really hard not to speak at all in her presence. Take home: Don’t ask about wigs.

This is not the dress. Or the friend.

Greeting a close friend as she entered a party I was hosting. That dress isn’t the best look on you.

(T) I mean, I thought it was true…but I am not a bastion of fashion. I was wearing jeans and a stained shirt. In fact the same stained shirt I have on as I type this.

(H) Helpful. I mean, I thought it would help her in the future. But since she was arriving at a party presumably without an outfit change it was not particularly useful to her at that moment.

(I) Inspiring. It might inspire her to write a scathing email. (See below)

(N) Necessary. As necessary as a hamburger lunch for a cow.

(K) Kind. As nice as telling an artist that my 5 year old could paint as well as she could.

The outcome? An angry email and a slow healing of an old friendship.

My take home? I learned never to speak about dresses again. At least at the beginning of the party.

This is not the kid. The kid's injuries were much more extensive.
This is not the kid. The kid’s injuries were much more extensive.

Meeting a couple for the first time I found out that the huge red marks on their son’s face was from an accident. Did I offer sympathy? Did I ask after his health? Did I offend a huge portion of the popultation? No, no, yes. I said “I’m glad to hear he fell, I was worried that was a birthmark.

(T) True. I mean, it was what I thought.

(H) Helpful. Maybe it could help bring them into my world of judgment and shallowness.

(I) Inspiring. It might inspire them to move to other side of the kitchen island to avoid the asshole at the party.

(N) Necessary. I had to fill the tasteless joke at the kid’s expense quotient of the party.

(K) Kind. As kind as kicking a puppy. With a birthmark.

The outcome: When the dad didn’t laugh at the joke I tried it a SECOND time on the mom. Then I repeated it to the host describing that I was so out of touch that I had told the story twice before at her party. I haven’t been invited back. Or seen the lovely couple and their young child again. My take away:  I should work on some Gorbachev material.

As someone who spends a ton of time lamenting our collective emphasis on appearance I seem to comment on people’s appearances quite a bit. I think my take away should be more broad. Maybe keep my mouth shut. At least until Gorbachev shows up at a party in a wig with a bad dress one. I will totally tell him that he has shit stuck in his teeth. Because that is (H) helpful.

Maybe I should have searched for #WordlessWednesday instead. And that IS a thing.

Just not usually for me.

What about you? Do you ever step in it?

Here is a link to Emily Post’s Etiquette. I might buy it. And not just to learn how to spell it.


The shallow end

shallow woman with great hair“I still can’t wear mascara” she tells her friend. She is in tailored pants, a fitted T shirt hugging her curves with toned tan arms holding her 1/2 caf skinny latte. She has chunky jewelry, brand named sandals and professionally colored blond hair. “You look great.” her friend tells her, truthfully. “People are going to look at me and be like, what is up with her.” I guess because of the mascara. I am listening to her and wondering ‘what is up with her.’

My ginger peach tea is ready at the drinks bar and I stumble out between the tables to get it.

Passing the steel and wood standing work space (outlets, outlets) another 40 something pair of women have their heads close together. “I want to just smell it.” says the one wearing Lululemon with an invisible elastic holding back loose dark curls. “I know. Isn’t it incredible.” Unlike certain CEOs these women are ‘leaning in’ over a gourmet pop tart. “It’s my daily sin. I would NEVER tell my kids about it.” They laugh, sharing a moment of how unbelievable it would be to let their kids know that they eat baked goods. EVERY DAY. At least one of them does.

I wonder for the 10,000th time how we got here. How we worry about mascara and carbs. How we pass on the messages to our kids, while hiding our own “sins.” Why we spend time and money erasing lines and dark spots, poking at sagging skin, smoothing creams and potions on our faces, buying six pairs of white jeans until we find one that lifts our ass just right. Maybe we won’t be able to sit comfortably in those jeans, or stand comfortable in those shoes. But look at our legs. Don’t they look long and lean? Media. Social expectations.

I have a diet too. I call it a food revolution with my boys so they don’t think of it as restrictive. I am cutting way back on carbs. No sinful Popsters for me. Despite my efforts to frame my eating habits as a positive for myself and my kids (more energy, stable blood sugar, less stomach pain) we all call the days with fries and pies a “cheat” day. I am a cheater when I eat food off of the list. A big, fat, cheater.

My motivation for the food revolution is primarily for health reasons. But despite my clog wearing, cut off jean sporting, make up free appearance there is vanity in my decision to diet as well. Or at least the hope to re-claim vanity. Perhaps I have turned my low fashion life into my signature because I don’t have a real shot at shining. The closest I come to polish is my Polish background. I imagine myself 40 pounds lighter. Then perhaps I will wear mascara and blow dry my hair.

Across the coffee shop I see two women embracing. I know one of them. She is gorgeous and also grounded. She is engaged in her work, juggles kids, and always has a smile. She is an excellent example of someone who seems to ride the roller coaster of expectations without puking over the edge. As they hug her friend holds her at arms length and tells her “you look adorable.” “I’ve had this forever” she replies, pulling her dress out at the skirt to look at the pattern. As she turns to me I see that even she is wearing mascara.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.43.42 AMNext to me I tune back in to the original pair of women. Slowly the words filter in. They are talking about funerals and failed surgeries. They are talking of lost loves and grieving children. They are talking about a young woman who has lost a battle and the family shattered behind them. The one with the bare eyes says she has been asked to give a eulogy. All of a sudden “I still can’t wear mascara” seems less like a symptom of pink eye the virus and more like the result of pink eyes from crying.

Once again the tiniest tidbit of conversation has sent me spiraling in the wrong direction. “People are going to wonder what is up with me” was not a statement about appearance. It was about grief, and the most fundamental of human realities. These past 15 minutes as I looked around the coffee shop at blond bob after blond bob I was judging simply on appearance. Which is exactly the practice that perpetuates the problem.

It is what is inside the skin that is the story.

Do you have a story about re-thinking a snap judgement? How do you make sure you concentrate on the book not the cover?


Hello, my name is Anna, and I am racist

All of the white things I did this weekend, followed by some of the thoughts I had about being a racist.

Mars Meyers products.
Look how delightful.

We all know weekends start on Thursday so I began with wine and cheese with some lovely ladies in my living room. There was a lot of Rose. A friend was in town for a “rock concert” (his words) so he popped by for a whiskey and chat at the end of the party and got to enjoy my line up of Mrs. Meyers scented products on my counter. Geranium is my favorite. He asked if it was a joke, and in the fact that anything can be a joke it was, but they did look like the worlds least effective army lined up on my re-done counter. Which is a bit of foreshadowing.

Ryan Miller of Guster climbs tower
Look how agile.

On the entertainment front we scored high marks Friday when we saw Guster at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Great (rock) show, great venue (even though my friend thinks the whole thing is like a lush green toilet bowl because the amphitheater in the round bottoms out in a giant drain.) While waiting for the concert to start I watched Oliver’s blond head circle the concert goers on the sidewalk above the grassy slopes. He walked and walked getting the steps necessary to incubate his Pokemon eggs. Or at least he walked until he stopped to catch a Pokemon.


Ghost Busters
Look how sassy.

On Saturday I saw Ghost Busters. I loved it. I lounged on my friend’s daybed on her covered patio sipping iced tea and plumping velvet pillows behind my head. We played the Paul Rudd game where we each picked the Paul Rudd movie that resonated most with us. If you can use Paul Rudd and resonated in the same sentence. Clearly you can because I just did. Twice. I picked Clueless. Obviously. Leo had picked Ant Man the night before (or technically, and Steve would want me to be technical, Steve pointed it out to him.) There were a few slapstick comedies in there and now the Fundamentals Of Caring which I thought would be an awkward love story between Selena Gomez and Paul Rudd but instead was a not so awkward story of how broken people can go a ways towards healing each other. (Also, hopefully, some foreshadowing) Not bad. In any case one of the players of the Paul Rudd game called him white bread and although I get her point I think he at least is the Enriched white bread. (Again with the foreshadowing.)

British Open 2016
Look how exciting.

Sunday was a big day. I managed to squeeze in the entire final round of The British Open, which would have been a nail biter if it wasn’t golf. The big appeal to The Open (in fact the British bit was added by the Americans once we started our own US Open with religious freedom and less tea) was that we watched it in bed. Steve never likes to be in bed relaxing during the day. I think he might be broken. In any case roughly once a year he makes an exception so I kept him company and Leo brought the French Press up from downstairs. (No foreshadowing, but a bit of remembrance of how our entire country was formed on the idea of freedoms if not the practice of freedom.)

Look how addictive
Look how addictive

During this stretch I downloaded some new games for my phone and did some extensive A B testing on “Merged” v. “Merged ++” In the end I opted for Merged ++ although I think those folks might have given themselves higher marks than they deserved. I’d offer them a Merged + and they should take that as generous. (Merged- good word, harbinger?) I sat by Steve while he tried to sort out our Showtime anywhere connection. It is pretty much Showtime nowhere. Also on the fritz (is that the word? I seem to have lost it) is Sirius radio. This I feel is a sign to get rid of it. With a shared car I often hop in to be yelled at either by something masquerading as music (Ska) or its close cousin the comedians who also seem to want to yell. EVERYTHING IS FUNNIER WHEN IT IS LOUDER. SEE.

That evening Steve and I took a stroll through the Community Garden and I pointed out all of the volunteer dill. Such a thrill. I revel in my life where I have the space to celebrate dill. That is a pretty good benchmark for security.

All of this is to say I might have had the whitest weekend in the world. If you weren’t already thinking it go back and review. Really.The only way it could have been more white is if we had played ultimate frisbee with our golden retriever and haggled over prices at estate sales only to leave behind the items at the last minute.

Look how white.
Look how white.

One of the reasons we moved to a city instead of a wealthy suburb was to give our kids a chance to have more diverse relationships than we had in Vermont. That said there are two non white teachers in my kids’ school, one is in administration (and left this summer) the other is a teacher’s aid (and, I think, left this summer.) Next year Oliver’s school is less than 50% white (including the assistant principal) and they have a close eye on the fact that as you walk the halls you can see through the 2 inch wide windows in the classroom doors which are the honors classes and which are not. If I had done a little research this might not have come as a surprise.

Look how symbolic.
Look how symbolic.

In my excellent suburban elementary school racial diversity was achieved through bussing. Which resulting in me inviting Tiffany from Rochester to my house exactly one time. The school did very little to integrate the kids from Boston with the kids from the suburbs. When we learned about the Civil Rights movement one of us (and I won’t name a name here) mentioned that we were closer to “separate but equal” than we were to real equality. That thought was hushed up pretty quickly.

Look how shiny.
Even the VT capital is white.

My life has not changed that much. Oddly my friendships in Vermont more closely mirrored the demographic make up of the area. It was pretty much white, my friends were pretty much white. When we relocated I made the mistaken assumption that any urban area would have demographic diversity (aided by recess on the field across the street from my house the day we made our offer- the kids were 40% white- turns out those were middle school kids and they too were bussed in from other neighborhoods.) It was naive. Some of my friends argue that being a woman and being a jew make me closer to understanding the cleavage of identity and treatment that happens in today’s society. Whether it does on paper (and I would argue that it does not) it certainly doesn’t offer me insight in practice.

Look how I kiss up to dead white guys.
Look how I kiss up to dead white guys.

Even though I know every system is flawed I feel that my odds of being treated fairly are high. If I were arrested I imagine I would be treated legally. If I went to trial there would be a team of people looking out for my rights. I am protected by family, social status, and skin color. Although my earning potential might be pennies on the dollar of the people with dicks I haven’t really tested it because I have opted out of the workplace, something that isn’t possible for most people in our country. The closest thing I feel to discrimination surrounds mental illness. Unlike skin color most of us with diagnoses can (and do) hide our conditions. That is different problem that I am much more poetic about.

Look how helpful
Look how helpful

I tell you about my weekend because I realize that both my thoughts and behavior reinforce the status quo. When I read books that reveal the feeling rather than the fact of inequality I feel helpless. I read lists of things white people can do to help and wonder about their efficacy. I know I am racist. When I interact with someone of color I am more eager. I rush to open literal doors because I am lost trying to open figurative ones. I check myself when I have horrible thoughts that come from a world of difference. When I see a person of color stepping out of a car in my wealthy leafy neighborhood I imagine he or she is there to clean or work on a house. Mostly I am right. So instead of tamping it down like my third grade teacher did with the observation of our school’s separate but equal practices I am noticing. I am noticing the caricatures of black people even in cartoons. Somehow the animals in secret life of pets had races even though they were animals and animated and those races reinforced roles that I wish didn’t exist. But wishing doesn’t get things done. The black Ghost Buster was the only one without a science degree. She was sassy and street wise. In a film that directly took on stereotypes (there was a blond beefcake as the dumb secretary in a reversal of the blond bombshell) they left this one in tact.

Look how we measure in classrooms
Look how we measure in classrooms

This weekend I came up with a plan to use the power of my whiteness to effect a tiny slice of change. The Science Technology Engineering and Math elective at Oliver’s new middle school is as pale as the marshmallows that Leo threw around the room at the last (and LAST) sleepover. My school wants Oliver. Even though it is a public school the principal is actively lobbying for the rich white neighbors to send their kids to it rather than private schools or one of the other specialized choices. He is responsive to each email and each visit. He is wooing the parent’s from my elementary school with dedication. One way that he has done this is to offer a guaranteed spot in the popular STEM program to every neighborhood student who puts his school as first choice on the school choice form. This program is the one that is best funded in the school, it is also the one that probably provides the best tangible skills for a future high paying job. I know this is middle school but we need to start somewhere. Instead of a practice that saves slots for rich white kids we could have one that keeps things random.  I know he will tell me about the ways he is trying to change things between and walls and in the halls of the school. I will offer to help, and maybe I can. Maybe we can get more kids who happen not to have white skin into the STEM program. Or maybe the solution that I have come up with from my privileged perch is not the one they are looking for.

Look how hateful
Look how hateful

Who really knows. Not me. But I will notice and listen as much as I can. And try to be less of a dingbat every single time I see someone with brown skin. Tripping over myself to be effusive is ineffective and maybe even damaging. Which is what I fear any action that takes me off the bench will be. Fear and worrying and wishing are not going to make a difference. We live in a world with regular racially motivated violence. We live in a world where the system is rigged. We live in a world with hate speech from a presidential candidate. And I live in a world apart.

At least I can try to change that last bit.

If you are looking for a way to talk to your kids about privilege I have found this video to be incredibly useful. The trick is how to have the next part of the conversation. Let me know if you have any ideas. <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/2KlmvmuxzYE” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>