Sunday
Aug232015

To My Only Child As You Head off to College

I bought snacks for your dorm room. I know there will be a time when you want something to eat and the dining hall will be closed.

They are from Costco, in as large-numbered-count boxes as I could find.

You said, “Why do I need snacks? There are dining halls!”

But I bought them anyway. When you have been feeding a little person for 18 years, it’s very hard to stop.

Granola bars in three flavors in case you miss breakfast, pretzel thins because I know you like them, 40 bags of microwave popcorn, peanut M&Ms in a jar.

Packing them up was like helping you make that fruit loop necklace when we went to Sea World. Menga made that for you—she knew it would give you something to eat, and something to do.

You always needed something constructive to do—you and your creative imagination. You would throw pillows on the floor and tell me to follow you, jumping from one to another, to avoid the sharks swimming on the rug. You’d make me put on goalie pads so you could shoot real pucks on me when you were pretending to play for the Maple Leafs (you once insisted I write “Toronto Made-Up Leaves” on the front of a white t-shirt and your name on the back—you thought that was what they were called).

When we went out to play catch, you would set up bases with whatever sticks or markers you could find. You always insisted that when one of us had a hit, we had to run the bases and try to tag each other out. Some late Sunday afternoons, I’d say, “I’m tired, I just want to pitch or hit,” and I’d be carefully measuring the minutes that I could spend playing before getting back to my work inside.

Many times, you’d just give me a bye. But you always ran the bases.

Now that you’re gone, I’d give my right arm to run those bases with you.

Just before you left, I told you about my friend who posted recently on Facebook, “Everyone, please tell Ben to call his mother. I’ve been trying to reach you since the weekend and apparently your phone is dead.”

I made a point to tell you that story, and said, “Please don’t do that to me. That will make me crazy. If you do that, I’ll try everything—Twitter, Facebook—are you on Snapchat?”

“No,” you said.

I said, “Well, I’ll use Snapchat too.”

That was when you told me very simply, laughing, that you would just shut off your phone.

Don’t you dare.

You need to understand how biologically impossible this seems to me: To take care of a little human being for 18 years and suddenly one day let him go out into the world on his own. It feels inhumane. And for me, it’s even more difficult because you and I were on our own for almost ten years. It was you and me against the world—always.

Who’s going to be my little person there with me against the world now? Who is going to remind me that it’s supposed to be fun? That life is not all about responsibility, that sometimes it’s about living in the brilliant moment?

Halfway through the summer, I asked you, “So what are you thinking about going off to college? Are you excited? Nervous? Worried?”

And you said, shrugging your shoulders, “Honestly, Mom, I’m not thinking about it yet. I generally just think about today, or tomorrow.”

That made me laugh. That is so your personality. And it was so true. You were probably just thinking about your next shift at work, or when you were going to the beach, or out with friends. You have always been present in the moment, the hour, the day. You don’t even think about the week, or the month. That’s what makes you such a happy-go-lucky person. You’re like your dad that way. That’s really all that you need.

But your living in the moment has always been a bit stressful to me. I am a planner, the organizer. I live in the next week/two/month generally. (Except in moments like this when I am thinking about where we were 14 years ago—that happens too).

But I know it’s appropriate to let you find your own way. It’s developmentally appropriate—not just for you, but for both of us.

Whenever I tried to give you advice or suggestions over the last few months, such as when you should get that physical scheduled, or when you should skip breakfast (never), or how exactly to pack your clothes for college, you’d say, “Mom, I got this.”

Mom, I got this.

I know you got this.

It’s just hard for me to let you go.

But no matter what, you need to know that even though you aren’t here with me anymore, I am with you.

I still got you. I’ve got your back. I always will.

Friday
Jul172015

This Is My Happy Place

When I told a few friends and colleagues last week that I was heading off on vacation, they asked, “Great! Where are you going? Anywhere fun?”

At that point, I would light up, and exclaim, “Yes! I am headed off to Cape Cod for a week-long poetry workshop!”

The friends would then frown, and consider my comment for a brief moment—before wondering if I should be committed somewhere. They’d look at me and say, “Really? You’re going to the Cape and not going to the beach or on a whale watch? And by the way, since when is studying poetry an actual vacation?”

Keep in mind that at that moment, those friends were having flashbacks of high school literature classes trying to understand The Odyssey, remembering which Shakespearean character said, “Out, damn’d spot!” and the difference between iambic pentameter and a dactyl.

I understand the concern.

Only other closet artists would understand why I would be thrilled for this kind of week away. Having the opportunity to study with an amazing contemporary poet—Rowan Ricardo Phillips—and talk about sound, subject, and the imagination with other poets for three hours a day, five days in a row, was simply a breathtaking concept.

We also got to spend many of our off hours actually writing so we could share a new poem each day with the class.

(It’s probably worth nothing that one of the poems we had to write was a sestina, which is a 39-line poem with 10 syllables in each line. We also had to end each line with one of six words that repeat in a specific pattern. And not only did we have to write in that form, but we had to look with the picture on our driver’s license, and write the poem from that person’s point of view, however bad that photo may be.)

That’s where the insane part came into play.

It was poetry boot camp—simply awesome.

As we moved through the week, I found that the lessons that Rowan shared for writing poetry are equally apropos in life. For example, he gave us four rules to follow when we worked on our sestina:

1) Commit—to writing the sestina (or to anything you do). Don’t give up or bag out early on.

2) Don’t Panic—when you find that it’s really hard partway through, don’t give up. Go for it.

3) Don’t Overcommit—if you find yourself struggling, going in a direction that isn’t working, don’t be afraid to start over.

4) Finally, Overcommit—in the end, give it your absolute best. Let ’er rip.

This advice was wise. I was determined to write this sestina on Wednesday night (Rule #1)—I had never written one before. But once I had written two and a half of the six necessary stanzas after a few hours, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I felt stifled by the direction my poem was going and was getting crankier by the minute (Rule #2).

Fortunately, Rowan had reminded us that this work is all about putting our poetic imagination under pressure. That’s part of being a poet. So I started over (Rule #3).

In the end, we all wrote our sestinas (Rule #4). And they were really good. Our tiny group of seven poets was amazed that we all produced great work in just five days.

Of course, everyone knows that poets, like painters, are a little crazy. There are plenty of stories of poets going off the deep end. And do also know that the sestina was invented by Arnaut Daniel, a troubadour from 12th century Provence. The form was later refined by Dante, who also wrote “Inferno” (see the connection? The hell thing?).

The form has evolved even since then, and wow, sestinas can be really cool! We did have some other stretch assignments—we wrote an ekphrastic poem, a poem that is in response to another work of art. One afternoon, we walked the local galleries in Ptown and each found a piece of artwork we really liked, and then wrote a poem in response to it.*

Rowan reminded us that just like a lot of creative endeavors in process, poetry is a plastic art—each line needs to be put through a stress test. The line, and the poem, needs to be bumped to see what falls off. What’s left will hopefully be a damn good poem. It’s plastic…until it’s not.

I guess that’s just like life, just like being human, really. And I’m just a tiny bit more in alignment with who I am this week, coming out of this happy place in Ptown.

*I chose a sculpture for my Ekphrasis—check out “People Could Fly” by Walter Horak.

Saturday
Jun132015

This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a Mother

I heard the catchy refrain to this new Maroon 5 song one day on the radio.

The song immediately made me think about my son D., and what it feels like to be the mother of an only child when said child is preparing to go off to college. I have been holding my breath since September anticipating the day.

“This summer’s gonna hurt like a mother, uh huh…”

I thought it was a great song, even though the lyrics have nothing to do with parenting teenagers. So I downloaded the song on Spotify. But was I surprised to learn—the second time I listened to it—that the lyrics are actually “This summer’s gonna hurt like a mother#*%.”

By accident I had downloaded the explicit version.

I didn’t even know there was an explicit version! Other than one Eminem song, I don’t have any explicit songs in my collection. I have this argument with D. all the time, when I am unfortunate enough to catch a phrase or two from some of the music he listens to. In these moments, I say something like, “A good musician…or any good writer….does not need to use swear words to make a point. Swear words are a lazy way to communicate emotion. It’s much harder to communicate a feeling using other language.”

He disagrees, and happily returns to his playlists and I return to mine. (When D. turned 17, he asked if he could start listening to explicit music, and in a moment of utter weakness and exhaustion from 17 years of raising a kid with his own strong opinions, I agreed.)

So here I am—I have made it through his high school graduation, and now I’m preparing for the summer to hurt like a mother#*%.  One of my friends whose only child daughter went off to college last fall told me, “You know, at first, it was like someone died.” He talked about how walking by her empty room was downright depressing, eerie almost.

Maybe the explicit version of that song is more apropos after all.

Or at least it will be on August 14, the day D. will be checking into his dorm.

August 14 is the day before my birthday (“I know,” D. said, when my eyes got really wide when I learned he had to move in at school that day. What? Miss the opportunity for me to have to remind him to shower his mother with love and gifts on her birthday? “Sorry about that,” was all he said.)  

This preparing D. and me for college is no small feat. But as I was talking to a friend about it recently, it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t have to be completely traumatized by his departure. It will be sad, and the house will never feel the same again, and I’ll try not to text him a million times of day and God forbid, not to call him much at all. But it occurred to me that I could pick up the other end of the stick about this whole thing.

I have read the Tao of Pooh, for heaven’s sake. And Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, and The Relaxation Response and The Alchemist and Awakening the Buddhist Heart. I’ve spent too many hours listening to Abraham-Hicks on audio to focus too much on suffering. I know better.

I can choose a different path. I can spend these couple of months preparing to be excited for him. Sure, I will be sad, and I will miss him a lot. But he is in a great place and is heading off to a new life. He won’t be too far away—I can still see him frequently. I can go to his football games and strain to find his numbered jersey among the 100 guys on the edge of the football field. I can focus instead on how I have raised him well, that I was there just enough but did not feather his nest too perfectly. I can remember that he has always been clear about knowing what he needs and he is good at taking care of himself.

He has skills. He is a good soul. He is resilient.

And above all, I know what a long, strange, wonderful trip he has ahead of him.

Sunday
Apr052015

My Mother Was an Amazing Easter Bunny

When my mother dyed hard-boiled eggs for Easter, she would never just drop them recklessly into vinegar-infused PAAS like I do. I tend to get a bit too aggressive with the colors, sometimes ending up with brownish shells and squiggly, overlapping designs.

My mother, on the other hand, would color her eggs with careful crayon lines and patterns. She would then gently spoon dye over the eggs so each one came come out a solid, even color. And then she would glue on construction paper eyelashes, ears, and tails to make crazy monster eggs. I think she saw this idea in Family Circle.

Some years, she would even grow small baskets of grass, and as long as the cat didn’t eat the grass first, she would then rest the eggs in the basket as a centerpiece. Or she would just put the eggs on the table, next to flower arrangements and bowls of Jordan almonds. And she’d take photographs of these monster eggs so years later, when she was long gone, the whole thing would be memorialized in Kodak prints.

Of all the times my son D. dyed eggs, I think he and I did it only once at my house with just the two of us. It was always at my mother’s.

Now, she was not perfect. Some years, she grew the grass but never got around to the eggs. Or sometimes she would dye the eggs but never get to glue on the construction paper. If there was too much snow outside, she would only hide the bare, dyed eggs, before they got donned with construction paper, and sometimes we would eat them first so they would never end up with their accessories at all. But we knew from the colors which ones might become a one-eyed monster, or a bunny with floppy ears. And when they came together, it was a masterpiece.

My mother didn’t just stop at eggs. Every year, we’d go to my parents’ house for breakfast, and after the egg hunt, my son D. would find two baskets hidden deeper in the woods: one from the Easter bunny, and another from her. And when we went to my sister’s for dinner later in the day, D. would get another one there because she didn’t want him to miss out when the other grandchildren were opening theirs. It was a little over the top, but when it comes to grandchildren, who cares?

I don’t yet have grandchildren. Which is good, because my version of Easter still needs some work. Yesterday, I had an egg hunt at my house for the youngest nieces and nephews. D. and I had filled a ridiculous number of eggs the night before while watching an episode of House of Cards, which seemed an appropriate backdrop for this work. We used purple Peeps and fruit snacks, which my mother had always put in D.’s eggs. And then, Reese’s mini peanut butter eggs, jellybeans, and Hershey’s chocolates. Yesterday morning, D. and I hid them in the front yard because there is still a bit too much snow in the back.

There weren’t a lot of places to hide them as the area is mostly grass and trees. So we got a bit lazy toward the end, as our bag of eggs was still heavy but there weren’t many places not already dotted with bright fluorescent spots. I started doubling up in some places. And D. began gently whipping eggs across our giant front lawn.

That helped the cause, until one broke open and spread candy across the grass.

We had the eggs hidden in about 13 minutes. And it took the kids less than that to find them.

In the end, it’s obvious that D. and I are nowhere near as graceful or as creative as my mother was. But we have some time. We have a few seasons of House of Cards left to watch. And at least we have her bunny spirit.

Saturday
Feb142015

Oh, How I Wanted Normal Valentines

My mother used to make Scandinavian heart baskets every Valentine’s Day. She would weave together thick red and pink construction paper in the shape of a heart, and add a handle on top, making a little pocket to put cookies or candy.

That was what I was supposed to give my classmates as a valentine. Imagine the horror of that, when you’re in fourth grade.

She would bake heart-shaped sugar cookies to put in them, or fill them with wrapped chocolates, but I longed for the die-cut Snoopy or Garfield or teddy bear in thin white envelopes like everyone else had. I wanted to be able to write Kellie in big scrawling cursive letters on the back, and then lick the envelope and write a kid’s name on the outside.

I couldn’t write names on mine—they were too lumpy to write anything. So mine were always the same, generic.

Everyone else could bring their Valentines to school in their pocket or backpack. I had to bring mine in a Tupperware container. Sometimes even on the bus.

Everyone then knew that I didn’t quite fit in, that I was from California or something.

But in reality, it wasn’t because I was from California. My mother just read Family Circle and Better Homes & Gardens every month and when she came across a craft like this, she would actually make it. She was one of those people who pulled recipes and crafts and decorating ideas out of magazines and then later made them, writing “Excellent!” or “Good for a rainy day!” on the article at the top with a Sharpie, and saved it folded in a file cabinet.

This was before Pinterest and Google—if she wanted to ever make something twice, she had to save the directions. (Someday, I’ll have to write about her Easter eggs.)

She would sometimes elicit my help to make these valentines, but often she would do all the cutting and weaving, and baking and frosting herself. She was much more careful than I was, and she wanted them to be perfect.

One year, I remember my class had decorated shoe boxes with stickers and cut a slot in the top so we’d have a place to put our valentines. We went through the ceremony of walking around the classroom from desk to desk, handing out valentines, kids smiling and saying, “Wait until you see mine,” most of us wondering if any two had used the same ones.

But my valentines would not fit into that slot in the shoe box—the kids had to put it on their desk or open up the top of the box to put it inside.

Sometimes, the teacher would let us eat the cookies, or the candy, before lunch. Even though I didn’t think they were that cool, the kids did seem to like the cookie part.

I only made this kind of valentines for my son once—when he was young and wasn’t able to express his preferences. He was in kindergarten at Eagle’s Flight, and my mother helped me make them for his whole class. They all got very excited about the cookies.

He went for cooler valentine’s right after that. Making them for him in first grade wasn’t even an option (not that I would have anyway, without my mother’s help. I am not so construction-paper inclined, maybe from early childhood valentine trauma).  

But, I still have my mom’s cookie cutters. I’ve used them a few times. That sugar cookie recipe will always be my favorite.

And, I have a pair of her black-handled metal scissors in my desk.  

Saturday
Feb072015

The River Is Just This (Or, Reflecting on Lives I Could Have Lived)

I’m sitting in 14F on a Southwest flight to Tampa. I usually prefer the left side of planes and busses, but today there is space overhead for my bag, wheels in, and an empty spot at the window, so that’s where I land.

Listening to “Scare Aware the Dark” by Passenger through earbuds, trying to drown out the safety instructions. “You should sing, sing at the top of your voice….feel, feel like you still have a choice…if we all light up, we can scare away the dark.”

The flight attendant rattles on a few minutes too long. I want to shout at her, “When are you going to be quiet?” Finally, she shuts up.

“We should run through the forest, we should swim in the streams, we should laugh, we should cry, we should love, we should dream…”

It’s early, I’m on my way to a conference where it’s 60 degrees warmer than it is at home. I have flip flops and my bathing suit in my bag, leaving giant drifts of February snow behind. Another 10-14 inches is going to accumulate while I am gone.

I pull out a copy of Poetry magazine. My best friend gave me a subscription for Christmas. I felt like a little kid when I got the postcard in the mail, “Poetry is on its way to you!”

At nine, I was sitting on giant rocks in my backyard, pondering the meaning of life and writing cheesy poems in a journal. I was a poet before I was much else. I’d write verse on napkins in restaurants, on scrap paper in front of the TV. My first poem was published when I was 10 in Children’s Digest magazine. I’ve published 15 or 20 more since then—but I only spend about half of a percent of my time on it. Who has time to write poems, or submit them to be published? Plus, there are only a few thousand people who read poetry anyway.

The February issue of Poetry had been sitting on my coffee table in the living room for just a week. At the last minute, I stuck it in my backpack, just in case I ran out of patience for the in-flight magazine.

So here I am, centered over the silver wing of the plane, cracking open the issue. It’s printed on thick ivory paper—oh, it feels so good to hold a book sometimes! My fingers forget what high quality vellum feels like—they are spoiled by 20 lb. copy paper, the swyping of keys on a phone, the exact trail of dialing the conference call number and code that I use for work. I can barely write in longhand anymore.

The opening poem of the issue, “Steady Digression on a Fixed Point” by Elizabeth Willis, is seven pages long.

Whoa. A poem more than two pages long is overwhelming—I usually skip over those to something sound-bite attention can sink into. But I read the opening line: A rose can’t change the world. It can only open or close.

Suddenly, I feel a tiny bit sad. I keep reading.

It’s not easy to write a poem with the word rose in it, just like it’s hard to write using the words love or death. You end up sounding sentimental. And yet her poem captivates me: “The body is a formal constraint. It has this one life with which to make eternity.”

There’s a girl sitting next to me in 14E, highlighting a textbook. The chapter she is reading is called “The Future of Crime.” She drops her pen cap at my feet, and I retrieve it.

I think about the lives I could have lived. The one where I’m the law student, reading about criminal justice, dropping my pen cap at someone’s feet. Or, the one where I’m a social worker, helping those starfish one at a time, wearing infinity scarves and hoop earrings. The life where I’m a stay-at-home mom, have three kids, and I plan out Campbell’s soup casseroles for the week like my mother did.

This is a poem about the star system and its ancient astronomer. About a poet of the outer boroughs, looking up. An image thrown into the sky like a searchlight.

Of course, there’s that coveted life where I’m a writer in some dark corner of New York, drinking hibiscus tea in coffee shops, clapping politely at poetry readings. At 22, I got a call to interview at The New Yorker as a copyeditor—I often imagine what path my life would have taken if I had gone on that interview, rather than spending that summer working in Michigan with friends.

This is a poem about searching for light behind the deep purple gel of the jungle. A poem about the deep.

I do like the life I’m in. It’s challenging, inspiring, full of great work, much abundance, good friends. I went to graduate school for poetry, and I have made time to study with leading-edge poets (I’d like to point out that my instructor last year at the Fine Arts Work Center, award-winning Terrence Hayes, was also recently named Sexiest Writer by People Magazine.)

It’s just not the life I imagined exactly. I didn’t know that at 45 both my parents would be gone, that I’d be floating about untethered with a thin structure of a family left. That I’d be dreading my one child heading off to college—anxious about who I’d be once he was gone. That I’d be feeling my joints starting to age and be struggling with lower back issues. That I’d be wishing I had written more words over these 45 years, and worked a bit less.

But, no one’s life looks exactly how we imagined. There’s always something else to be striving for—that’s part of what it means to be human. Even if you love your real job, it’s probably normal and healthy to periodically wonder what could have been. What you might have done instead. What your other real job was.

And meanwhile, that universal clock is ticking. Lines of Willis’ poem describes this indefatigable feeling well: The present is full of sound. Time presses against us from every side….When the light is turned on, you will forget you ever saw me. All of this will disappear. 

One of my favorite lines comes near the end of her poem. It is: The mind is drifting down a river like there’s something to fish for. But the river is just this. 

Tuesday
Jan202015

How to Get a Little Happier

For Christmas, I gave my niece a book called The Blessings Jar.

The book tells the story of a little girl, Punky Grace, who wakes up one morning in a grumpy mood. She was truly a cranky pants—until her grandmother suggested they make a blessings jar. They would start with a big, empty canning jar, go on some adventures, and every time they came across something that reminded her of some blessings she had in her life, she would put a memento in the jar to help her remember.

They added a flower from the garden, her ballet slipper after she did some twirling, and a shell from a trip to the beach. They stopped to have ice cream with her grandpa—and she put a napkin from the ice cream stand in the jar.

When I read to my niece that Punky Grace’s favorite ice cream was bubble gum, I said, “Oh my! That was Menga’s favorite ice cream!”

My mother used to tell stories of having ice cream from the shop on the corner in downtown Sonoma, California. She would always get bubble gum ice cream—vanilla with colored gumballs inside.

My niece, who is almost six, never knew Menga personally—but she has learned about her from stories we tell. She actually looks a lot like my mother did when she was her age. My niece wears a pink leotard sometimes and twirls around in circles—and my mother once had a pair of red pointe shoes.

Earlier that day, one of those times when my niece was spinning in circles, she said, “I’m so beautiful I can see the birds!”

I stopped what I was doing, and said, “What?”

She laughed, and said, “I can see right inside the bird’s nest!”

That’s what I thought she had said—it didn’t make any sense. We were inside. We weren’t anywhere near a window or near birds. 

But her comment reminded me of a book I am reading, 10% Happier, by Dan Harris. Harris, an ABC news correspondent who was struggling with cocaine drug addiction and anxiety, recounts his efforts to practice meditation to get his life in order. He shares the pain of battling it every step of the way, mostly being irritated by meditation teachers and the overall experience.

But finally, on day five at his first silent retreat, he was sitting outside on his dormitory balcony, meditating, when something finally “clicked.” He described it as finally finding a radio frequency he had been trying to tune into. He was suddenly completely present in the moment, in choice-less awareness, opening up with ease and clarity to everything that was there. After sitting with this for some time, he opened his eyes. And there was a hummingbird, hovering right in front of him.

Dan was so beautiful in that moment that he could see the birds too.

I’d put moments like that in my blessings jar. Moments when that hummingbird, or that turtle, or swan shows up when you need it most. I’d put in a picture of my son D. A piece of my yoga mat. A cotton ball, to remind me of days when the clouds are indescribable. Some paper, and a pen. A tennis ball from the Y. A sand dollar from Stinson Beach. A photo of my mom and dad.

What would you put in yours?

Saturday
Jan102015

Getting Old Is Awesome

I drive a lot in my job as a consultant, and after almost three years of 1000 miles a week, I’m feeling it. My stomach and glute muscles are weakening, my hip flexors are on revolt, my SI joints are inflamed, and there’s no air pillow puffy enough from Amazon to solve the problem.

It’s partly age, but also partly my body telling me that I’m out of balance. I first felt lower back pain about a year ago, but just kept thinking it was muscle tightness, maybe from too much tennis or not enough yoga. But after months of futilely rolling out my IT bands on high-density foam and trying to solve the problem on my own, I finally went to a chiropractor in October and he told me I was all out of whack.

Those weren’t his exact words—he said something about my Atlas, my T12, and my L5, and maybe a few other things in between. But I felt better after I left—at least until I got back into the car again.

So I started amping up my number of visits. I also started increasing use of other modalities to ease inflammation and pain—more acupuncture and massage. I started seeing a rolfer, who does very specialized deep tissue work. The rolfer spotted the misalignment right away, as I was standing there. He said, “I can see your hips are turned to one side,” and I pointed to the right. “That way?” I asked, and he said, “Yes.” All the muscles and bands on one side of my back were locked together, kind of stuck, rather than moving more independently as my ribs move.

It’s going to take more than just a few sessions on special tables to remedy this. So I’m doing everything a physical human can do. I now do a series of PT exercises at least twice a day, strengthening my core and my glutes. I use an exercise ball, two different foam rollers, multiple exercise bands, and The Runner’s Stick. Of course, for good measure, I periodically use the arm roller and the Therabar I got a year ago for tennis elbow. I also am trying to learn not to sleep on my stomach.

My boyfriend D. said to me, “Wow, it’s taking a lot to help you with this.” Was he commenting on my ridiculous series of appointments? Or maybe he said this when I was on the floor watching TV while doing hip flexor stretches and pelvic tilts. Hey, I’m like Oprah addressing her weight issues. I just don’t have the billions to pay for it and the in-house trainer and chef. These things take a small army.

Sometimes I think I’m working too hard on it, however. One of my chiropractors said, “you don’t want to think about it too much, you know, because you can attract too much energy to that.” The quote of the day that later showed up in my email box from Abraham-Hicks said: “When you give vibration to something, that vibration becomes activated and comes to the forefront. And the more often you focus upon it, and cause it to come to the forefront, the more dominant it becomes.”

I do believe that. It’s the Law of Attraction. So now when I am doing PT exercises morning and night, I try not to think about the fact that I while away hours in this way. Instead, I send good healing energy to my back. As I’m in a spine twist that is stretching every part of my being, I practice relaxing into it, breathing. And when I am on a massage table or signing yet another check to my chiropractor, I think to myself, “How lucky am I that I have this kind of support when I am ailing?” Part of why I have this trouble is I have a great job that takes me places, and I am very physically active, playing tennis several times a week. My muscles just aren’t in perfect balance.

I think of a cab driver who recently gave me a ride in St. Louis. He had a pillow, slipped inside a light blue case, behind his lower back. As he got into his cab, he adjusted the pillow behind him. I am sure that pillow would never be thick enough to deal with his pain, driving a cab all day long, probably six days a week. I thought at the time, “I know just how you feel.” I felt connected to this guy. He and I suffered from the same thing.

But I don’t drive a cab over 40 hours a week. I have a special pillow I sit on in my car like the ones they get for people in wheelchairs, so it take pressure off my tailbone (that’s the getting old part). I lean against an air pillow to support my lower back when I’m sitting. There’s an exercise ball in my office so I can do flexibility exercises as I work. I have a stand-up desk now as well, so I’m not sitting too much. I go to appointments every week with people who help me feel better. And I am feeling better all the time. So really, I just have to stop being a big baby. Shut up about my back, and all will be well.

 

Sunday
Jan042015

One Mi-Tie Rack and a Collection of Cravats

After my father passed away, as my sister and I were cleaning out his closet at the nursing home, we found his wooden Mi-Tie rack, still full of ties, and wondered what to do with it.

I could imagine my mother buying this tie rack for my father—it was probably a 10th anniversary present, the perfect thing as he worked his way into middle management. She probably found it at Brookstone, or Sharper Image. He was an engineer and appreciated gadgets, and she found him impossible to buy for, so a wooden tie rack with tiny gold hangers was perfect.

Even at the end of his life, the rack was still full of ties. There were striped Van Heusens from Macy’s; ties from Wallachs (remember Wallachs?); a red paisley Liberty of London; some Christian Dior. As I ran my fingers through the ties, I could picture him circling them neatly around his neck, all those days at Fairchild Semiconductor, New Hampshire Ball Bearing, Pneumo Precision.

He probably had one of these ties on his last day of work, when he was a purchasing manager at Burndy and was encouraged to retire at 63.

Of his collection, my favorites are the Endangered Species ties—one with a menacing-looking crocodile—why would one have a crocodile on his tie? Probably another gift from my mother, to celebrate that trip they took to Australia.

So what would do with all of these ties?

“Do the boys need any ties?” I asked my sister that day, referring to my nephews, who were 17 and 19.

“No,” she said. “I think they’re pretty good.”

“Hmmm,” I said. “Well, I can give this to D. I’ll see if he wants them. He only has maybe two ties for school.”

My son D. has to dress up every Wednesday in a school blazer and tie (love Catholic school!), and I’ve only bought him a tie or two a year. So even as a senior, it’s slim pickins, especially because some of them have come to a terrible end crumpled up in the bottom of his locker. D. certainly doesn’t own a tie rack. I had no idea whether he would want them or not, but it was worth a shot. 

When I got home later that night, I said, “Hey, D., do you have any interest in this?” and I held up the tie rack for him to see. “It was Bapop’s.”

“Sure!” he said, enthusiastically, nodding his head.

“Really?” I was surprised.

D. is a guy whose essential uniform is Adidas sweats and Dri-fit Nike shirts—that is, when he isn’t wearing his required polo and khakis or blazer on Wednesdays for school.

 “You might want to get rid of some of them,” I said, as he flipped through all of the ties. “Some of them are kinda old.” 

“Nah, I like them,” he insisted. He found one of two of his own ties and added them to a few empty hangers.

“Do you want to put this downstairs in your closet?” I asked. D. doesn’t have a closet in his room, so all of his school clothes are in my office.

“No, I’ll keep it here in my room,” he said.

For another six months, the tie rack hung on his doorknob. I’m not sure why he liked having it there, but he said he just liked looking at them. After about six months, I moved it to his closet.

As I looked at the tie rack every week, I always thought of my dad—he and Jack Daniels. Once, my father saw a commercial for Tennessee Whiskey on television, and the commercial showed men hard at work in a factory. But the men weren’t just in an office, they were working over machines, their ties getting eerily close to the moving parts. My father was a manufacturing engineer—he would have none of that. So he wrote a letter to the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, pointing out that their commercials depicted very unsafe manufacturing practices and they should take the commercials off the air.

My father actually received a response back—and not only did he get a letter acknowledging his very reasonable and excellent point, but they also made him a Tennessee Squire. This association was created to honor and recognize the company’s most loyal and responsible consumers. Although my dad was not a big whiskey drinker, I suppose he might have saved them a lawsuit. For years to come, Dad received humorous letters periodically from the company, telling him about the crazy activities on his plot of land in Tennessee.

My sister still has his scrapbook with all the letters. Today, if you’re a Tennessee Squire, you can log into a special section on their web site.

I’m thinking once D. turns 21, I’ll ask if he can join in. He is now the proud owner of that tie collection, after all.

 

P.S. There’s one tie that I hope D. always keeps, the one homemade one in the collection. A navy blue Laura Ashley-like print, with tiny pink flowers. It’s the one my mother made for my dad to wear at my wedding. It matches the four bridesmaid dresses she made and the groomsmen’s ties. That was 20 years ago this spring. The tie is narrow—so it’s coming back in style, right?

Sunday
Dec282014

Thinking About Slowing Down in the New Year

I was zipping down our curvy back road the other day, happily going about 9 miles over the speed limit (as I am wont to do, because there are places to go and things to see and never enough time. And yet in these rural parts, I also don’t know when I will see a fox or a deer or a possum or maybe a person jogging).

That day, as I rounded a corner, I saw a large dark spot near the double yellow lines that appeared to be moving slowly. This was not roadkill—this was road-alive.

Aaargh, I won’t get to tennis on time! I thought. But I slowed down, pulled my car over to the side, put on the hazards, and got out.

The dark spot was a turtle, and he was moving slowly. So slowly that he only moved about an inch every 15 seconds, and paused a long time in between. As I approached him, he turned his head slightly and started angling off in the other direction—back toward the center line.

“No, no, no,” I said. I moved around him, and put my feet in his path. This made him turn his head again, and he started slowly moving his body the other way.

He was a snapping turtle—I could tell by his rough black shell, his sawtooth back, and long tail.

“We don’t have time for this, Mr. Snapper,” I said out loud, as he was meandering. I picked up a long stick and nudged the back of his shell. At my touch, he flinched, and then I felt bad.

“I’m trying to save your life, little buddy,” I said.

The turtle didn’t seem to care. He had no sense of urgency, which to me, made him seem so vulnerable. It wouldn’t take much for him to be crushed by the many cars like mine that speed along this road. But he didn’t seem to know that. Snappers have fierce dispositions—reportedly having evolved that way because they are too large to hide in their shell when challenged. But this little guy did not seem concerned.

So the two of us just kept up the nudging and flinching and slow meandering until he was safely in the brush at the side of the road.

As I got back into the car, feeling quite accomplished, I asked myself, “So what was that about?”

Years ago, an Abenaki medicine man friend taught me to pay attention to animal medicine whenever it shows up. Animals signs often have some apt meaning or wisdom that might be worth considering, if you notice them, and pay attention.

So that night, I looked up ”Turtle” in Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. The text said, “The turtle is one of the oldest reptiles and thus has one of the most ancient mythologies…it has been a symbol for Mother Earth, for longevity, and for the awakening to heightened sensibilities.”

Nice!

Andrews also says that “Long life and groundedness within life is part of what is associated with the turtle. It does not move fast. It is as if, on some level, turtle knows that it has all the time in the world. Turtle medicine can teach new perceptions about time and our relationship within it.”

Me? Issues with time? Seriously? My favorite phrase to my son when he was growing up was “Quick like a bunny.” I was forever saying to him, “We can play if we have time when I am finished my work,” and “We only have ten minutes, so let’s get going.”

I am driven by my Outlook calendar. I have workweeks with literally 27 meetings, which can take me late into the night or can require early mornings to prepare for. So every 15 minutes of time, whether it’s for work or for play with family or friends, is very precious.

These days, I am that much more aware of time as my father just passed away last spring, and my mother died eight years ago at age 67. When you are only 45 and you have already had to face your parents’ mortality, it certainly does make you think about your own and how time can tick away mercilessly in the background of life.

I’ve been thinking about time lately, so it’s not surprising I saw the turtle. Just yesterday, I came across some notes that I had taken during a Quantum Think workshop 15 or 20 years ago. I remember really being impacted by this workshop at the time because it challenged my very notions of time. One of the questions the leader had asked us to consider was “What would be possible if you were centered and calm and less frenzied?”

He had pointed out that when you create a conscious intent to experience life in the moment, time slows down, and in fact, doesn’t exist. When you slow down enough to study a bird, and not leap on the bird’s back, you move to a new level of conscious awareness. That is when we start to see chronological time as a tool, rather than to be run by it.

All that is easy to say and not easy to do. As he said in that workshop that day, it’s not always easy to change our thoughts about time, because the thought usually gets there before we do. But we don’t necessarily have to change our thoughts, we just have to become more conscious of them, so we can create a different intent.

So what is my intent in this coming new year? To study my friend the turtle, and learn from him. I want to learn about the certainty that he experiences by just taking one step at a time. I want to live more in this moment, rather than focusing on moments in the past, or future moments that are still to come.

Ted Andrews writes, “Turtles have amazing survival skills and strategies…this can be a strong reminder [for us]. Is our life becoming too hectic? Are we not taking time for ourselves? Are we so busy that we can’t really see what is going on? Are we going too slow and need to pick up the pace a little? Turtle can help you decide.”

It’s a good thing the turtle showed up for me that day, because I have so much to learn.

I suppose it’s possible there might have been a hare too that day, but that darn hare moved too quickly for me to see him.