February comes, a month of hygge, squirrels burrow in the knots of trees, stalks huddle in the too-cold shade, waiting for the glimmer of a warming sun. February kills my high, bums me out. with its soft slow snow, feathery fistfuls. February, the heart-smacking, lip-centered, wait for longer days. For the spring of birthdays, of another hula hoop, scoop around the sun, for stronger days, when the shoots doesn’t break in the brittle cold, and the loon calls from the lake. And even the Met opens her front doors, wide, like a seamstress, ready to unfurl her crazy quilts.
When I began that Church a Day writing project, I thought I might find God. I thought I would find out why my Great Uncle Bob loved being a Knight of Columbus. He’d dress up all in white and carry himself proudly as he made his way to his church, the Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, Florida.
My childhood memories are imbued with memories of happy church events — of my First Holy Communion, of my father reading at a podium of St. Joan of Arc, of my walking the aisle as a flower girl at my godfather’s wedding, of singing with a Sun City choir as a teenager.
And because I loved church, I started the Church a Day journey. I thought I might find out why I always felt better, coming out of a church than going in.
After a month of visiting churches ten years ago, I discovered — maybe it’s obvious to you — that God was not found alone in a pew. He/she/God was found, at the front door, in the people — the welcoming handyman who turned on the lights for me or the shyly smiling older woman in the row ahead of me.
The thing I hated though, as I sat in the pew, was the moment a priest, pastor, chaplain, deacon, or officiant began puttering around in the sanctuary. Or the altar. Or vestibule. As if a service might start at any moment and I’d be trapped — having to sing or recite some rote passage.
And then the other side of church would set in — my childhood boredom and teen doubt and adult acknowledgement of the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of the Christian faith. I didn’t want any part of organized religion.
I simply wanted to feel the wooden pew, sometimes padded beneath my seat. I wanted to smell the musty, dusty sacred air. I wanted to stare at the symbolism of the stained glass windows. And the way the light shone through them, catching the dust motes. I wanted to be alone with God.
So I must tell you, I won a little award for that Church a Day blog from the Religion Communicators Council. I felt proud and embarrassed. And I share this with you — why? To let you know that I did dig deep and I have had writing success.
Visiting a church a day was a solitary endeavor. I didn’t know what I would find. Didn’t know if I would need anything. Or anyone. And I didn’t want to have to ask. Well, that’s a theme in my life. Like I should know it all already. That I should leave the wisdom of the world to everyone else.
Sitting in a nearly empty church, for it’s true, the churches were almost always empty, I felt at peace. And I’m embarking on a 100 day project and considered visiting a church a day.
But I have questions: What if the churches are closed? What if the people don’t let me in? What if I get stuck in the middle of a service? And who will I meet? Where will I sit? Will I find some calm? Will wisdom descend on me? Or will I learn to be patient for the ways in which I am not wise?
Will, as in the earlier journey, I discover that faith is not found in places? It is found in people.
And so as not to hem myself in and so as to participate in #the100dayproject, I’ll simply call my church a day, thinking about god and beauty project, #100daysofPoemsandPics so that I can play with words and pictures.
I advise you too to start your day by visiting poems and gaining inspiration at the Poetry Foundation.
If I visit the small lost and found department of my life, I wonder what I would find there. The things that I don’t even recall losing. That high-collared Lanz of Salzburg flannel nightgown, I wish I had it now for this spring dressed as winter in the North Country. During this pause, this enforced sanctuary, I’m aware of the recent big and small trips I’ve missed. To commemorate my dad’s life in Sarasota; to volunteer at McCurdy School in Espanola. I grieve. Take time to grieve so many losses. And the loss of certainty. Of course, we’ve found things too. Vast swaths of uninterrupted time with darlings. Sometimes bickering. Sometimes laughing. Sometimes walking the dog. Sometimes (okay, a lot of time) watching Netflix. I’ve found that frisson of joy when I hear a friend’s voice on the phone. Definitely, I feel loved. There is – yes – a sense of finding and losing. And we’ve experienced loss. One recent twist, I’ve found a forgiving heart for any and all who live with fear, the shadow self.
And a desire to turn to visual art — as ‘not the thing I do, but the place I visit.’ Imperfectly, yes. For we are only human.
I write to make sense of the world. I write because I am on the hunt to find meaning.
I write because I worry and need to reassure myself.
I write to make lists and tell myself to do tasks.
Sometimes I wonder if a woman should write as much as I do. I wonder if someone took away my keyboard — Would they tell me to get out there and get living? For me, living is writing. And writing is living. Writing is as essential as breathing. As dreaming.
Our dreams are our brains telling us stories. We need stories. We — I — write through the night.
The other night, I had a dream that I was on my phone, texting or scrolling. Scrolling or texting. I woke, feeling like I’d been cheated — you should not be on the phone when you are dreaming or writing.
Although my one writing friend is working on / writing a novel on his phone. I don’t know how the project’s going. He was swallowed into his phone and no one’s seen him for months. Maybe he will come back in a dream. Or in my writing. Like now.
When I ask myself, Why write? It is so that I, Ishmael, do not become swallowed into the big belly of the beast.
I don’t want to grow old but, you know, like they say, consider the options. One upside to aging? Higher cheekbones. One downside? Lower boobs.
One upside? I tan easily. One downside? Skin cancer — but mine’s basal cell, the least problematic type, so I’m cool with that. I really shouldn’t complain.
The thing I’m really not loving about growing old is the way that you gain one pound a year for 10 years and then suddenly you’re like 10 pounds more than your ideal weight.
But wait, let me remind myself. I have had friends and colleagues, younger than me, who have been diagnosed with cancer. And many survived and a few are no longer around. And they’d all probably remind me to not worry about weight. So seize the day.
I am reminding myself to take nothing for granted. I’m happy today’s problems include:
1. I don’t feel like writing right now.
2. I don’t feel like emptying the dishwasher.
Sure, I sometimes feel sorry for myself. Chris is really having more troubles with his Parkinson’s and the tasks of daily living. This worries me. A lot.
Let me grind my gears back to a place gratitude.
Here’s today’s gratitude list:
Citibike – commuted home today although it was cold. It feels so good to sail through the beautiful streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
My two good legs — to power the Citibike and take me up and down so many flights of stairs at work.
My fitbit — although my battery does not stay charged for as long as it should. (Don’t we all wind down as we age?) I may not have achieved my 10,000 steps for today, but I have been active nine out of nine hours.
My beautiful big apartment. It is always a work in progress. But it’s been the perfect place for raising my beautiful family and occasionally hosting the fabulous dinner party.
My washer/dryer and dishwasher — true, I don’t feel like unloading the dishes, but, wow, I have clean dishes. Such a gift.
Big one here — my kids. Love love love these nerds. As my neighbor upstairs used to say, “Not one is a shrinking violet.” Nope. That’s the way I like them.
Chris. Yes, he’s a handful, but we do connect on a deep level.
My excellent job — sure, it’s not perfect — I’m far too nomadic, moving from one class to another, but I have wonderful colleagues and generally look forward to going to work every day (and coming home at the end of the day). Several days a week I have to take the little guys to the bus and guess what? On those days, I hold hands with kindergartners and cross them safely. How lucky am I? Kids are hilarious.
My writing — whether it’s my journaling or my humorous essays or these half-baked blog posts.
My attitude. New York City is known as a FuggetAboutIt kinda place. But actually, most people are cool. They’re just in a hurry. Me? I’m naturally happy-go-lucky.
So, I’m grateful that I’m growing older, that I have my health, that I am loved and that I love well. What else is there? Unloading the dishwasher? Ah, FuggetAboutIt. I’m going to watch TV. Yes, grateful for my TV too.
I remember when my ex and I split up, I was in a divorce recovery support group, the therapist said he enjoyed working with people in pain because they were motivated. Hell, yes. That is me and my country. We are in pain and we are motivated to make some positive change.
Make some good use of our righteous anger. Besides feeling down by the state of our beloved union, yesterday, I was downhearted by the neurologist’s appointment. It’s not that anything has changed in Chris’s Parkinson’s status. But that’s just it. There’s never really a positive change either.
Still, I will not let my rage silence me. I will not let doubt rob my optimism.
These are my thoughts from the jury waiting room, snuggled in beside a couple hundred of my fellow citizens. As I look around this room, I notice we are way more beautifully diverse than our congress, our judges, our corporate leaders.
New York City uplifts me. There is something beautiful about the diversity of the people in today’s jury pool. My fellow jurors and travelers do not look like the creepy elders from any dystopian movie (think, Hunger Games) you know, those octogenarians who make up the justice committee confirming the Supreme Court nominees. New Yorkers are not creepers like that.
Sure, we have some older folks here, in a walker or wearing a suit and tie. But the people around me are also young, female, many shades of brown and beige and pink. Many hair styles and many fashion icons among us. This is the freakin’ melting pot — or better yet, the beautiful mosaic, as my pal (and former mayor) David Dinkins said.
So, yes, we get down but beautiful New Yorkers keeps us afloat.
At lunch time, I swung by the City Clerk’s office to pick up my application to be a marriage officiant. Don’t ask me why. I have no good reason. And we all must do those things for which there is no good reason.
Here are a few pics of today’s happy newlyweds and families. Feeling down? Notice all the happy couples. And if you’re still down, let that pain motivate you — to serve on a jury or to do something for which there is no good reason.
PS I was excused from jury duty service today and for the next six years. When so many of us show up, not all of us are needed.
Yesterday a friend mentioned, jokingly, that, once again, he was bypassed for the MacArthur genius grant. Yup. Me too.
But wait. Another person’s success can guide and catalyze you.
I have been a genius at parenting, teaching, writing. I have also been an utter and complete failure.
The problem with lone geniuses? In my opinion, there’s no such thing. All geniuses need a partner, a team, a band.
The Beatles created their great work when they competed against each other. On 60 Minutes last week, Paul McCartney talked about feeling competitive in his songwriting with John Lennon.
“If he’d have written [‘Strawberry Fields Forever’], I would write ‘Penny Lane’, you know, and it’s – he’s remembering his old area in Liverpool, so I’ll remember mine.”
So genius entails walking the streets of our childhood and young adulthood. One of my adult students has asked me to offer a writing workshop on the subject of sexual abuse and survival. So many of us have memories dredged to the surface during these Senate Supreme Court hearings.
I am figuring out how to offer this. Because writing about our vulnerabilities from a childhood place is a way into genius, but you have to feel safe.
How safe are you today? How vulnerable can you be in your art?
And another thing — Who among your friends is not a genius? I know that all of my friends are geniuses and worthy of reward.
What is genius?
What does genius have to do with creativity?
This I know: Intense emotions and pursuit of healing can lead to artistic acts of genius. So I will leave you with these two thoughts:
“Sometimes one of the great things [that] motivates a song is anguish.” -Sir Paul McCartney.
“The creative adult is the child who has survived.” – Julian Fleron
speed of light.
an owl lit out from the barnyard squawking.
a mouse flitted from the pasture to the tall green stalks of corn.
Did not know her days were numbered.
the bitty mouse.
She will be bit as mice will bite.
and no one
This dream. Poetry is a dream. why do we dream? why do i dream? Anxiety dreams?
that i am late for school/work.
that i will forget my lines.
i cannot stop dreaming i must let go of my anxiety dreams. Before I fall asleep, I tell myself, have a happy sleep, no more worries…
I started this blog post on the Mariandale Retreat in Westchester – a break from my mad dash cycling, cycling to get to my next big thing, to my next place
How can I have ease? i would like to know i know i am only responsible for myself. i know this intellectually, but i also feel i am responsible for all of you. that your happiness depends on me. who is this YOU? any passerbys, i offer a smile. any family member, i will rent a car and drive you. any friend, i will make a date and meet you. any bank clerk, i will greet you with kindness.
and i feel a tension in my shoulders. i retreated because i needed to remember this: ’tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free. and this:
every single person needs to keep beauty on their map
because there is more to this life than bread and water
we need to play, to immerse ourselves in nature, to have strength
we need to dive in to beauty as if into a pool.
lose ourselves. To find ourselves.
every single day, at the retreat and now at home, i set out to walk for an hour. I heard a neurologist at the Rockefeller University say we need this. this is the secret to happiness – walk an hour a day. but i usually walk for 40 minutes.
And i try to make art every day.
i wanted to light out like the owl from the barn.
i wanted to take flight and swoop down to carry the mouse back to the nest. the hungry tots. but there is also the owl that loves to fly farther and farther
and swoop into the currents of the air stream
the stream in the air
diving and dipping
when the lights dwindle and the stars poke through like mice. a little twinkle, a little glimmer, a little field of effervescence. And there it is:
the ineffableness of you
the secret of you
the only you
the way to find the most of you.
i was tired and lay down
and i lay by the river and i drifted to a deeper sleep and no one ever came to wake me.
and some day i will sleep, but until then I will fly.
Last night, I had book club; a group of nine of us who’ve been meeting for, like, 14 years. This month we read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a national Book Award finalist.It is magical and disturbing; and although it is fiction it seems undeniably true. For that, I am so sorry.
Last year teaching Seventh Grade Social Studies, our class discussed the underground railroad. And it is a common misunderstanding for Middle Schoolers to think the slave path towards freedom is actually a railroad. We celebrated Sojourner Truth in that class. And we talked about what made her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” so good – the repetition, the asking questions of the audience, the passion.
I’m grateful for my book club for all the times we’ve read and discussed books. We never run out of things to say. And there’s always another great book out there. The previous month we’d read Fredrick Backman’s A Man Called Ove. And next month we’re reading Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife.
Great friends and good books are keys to happiness. Joy is found in our everyday blessings.
In the next day, my 16-year-old twin girls are going to tour nearby colleges. My 19-year-old son and his good friend are just home for the weekend to attend a concert, and they will fly the coop back to the university tonight. This leaves just me and my husband at home. And I am longing for a new beginning.
Yes, in the last month I have started a new job, I have refloored our kitchen. As exciting as work friends and home improvements are, I can easily feel stuck. My distraction of choice? I tumble down a rabbit hole, like Alice. I fall into the day’s election news.
In this morning’s revelations on Trump’s taxes, I will tell you, I pay A LOT in taxes. Last year, in addition to what we paid throughout the year, we owed and paid about $12,000 at tax time. Oy! That hurts. But I do not care. Gladly, I would pay more to be sure every single person in this country has health insurance. Also, I have to release my taxes every year to apply for financial aid, so if you want my family’s financial details, we oblige.
I enjoy following the election news — opinionators, bloviators, and pundits. And I, too, can easily spin off on a political rant.
There is also this — I want to be informed to be a good citizen. When public schools were first growing in the United States, their purpose was to teach citizenship, not just load students’ heads with facts. What does it mean today to be a good citizen?
How can I take the day’s news, not feel swamped by a tsunami of unease, but make the world a better place?
Can reading and writing political rants enhance my ordinary life? My citizenship? My kindness towards my fellow human?
Because ordinary life is extraordinary. Yours is too. Your ordinary, boring day is a miracle. You get to be here in this life. You get to embark on a new beginning.
The election is a kind of new year. My children, considering and attending colleges, are at a new stage. And I am ready for newness. And if something new and wonderful does not drop in my lap today, I aim to find the new beginning in this one day. In my ordinary day. This makes me happy — the idea of some unplanned and happy synchronicity.
Last night, in addition to the joy of the new season of Saturday Night Live, Cate, Chris, and I watched the movie Harold and Maude. I woke up humming Cat Stevens.
Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are
And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are