Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fear and all its unruly children are just mental constructs

You know how they say all emotions are either born of love or born of fear? By that reasoning, the anxiety I'm feeling this morning is fear-based, though I'm not really clear what it is I fear on this bright, balmy Saturday. Essentially nothing is different today than it was yesterday, though I miss my husband and son, who have gone ahead to Antigua where the funeral arrangements for my husband's father are proceeding. My husband and his brother sat with my son on a beach the first evening, the three of them sipping beers and watching the sunset and reminiscing about their father and grandfather. There were so many good stories and warm laughs. It made me happy to think of my son with his father and uncle, the three of them on a beach as night slipped in, toasting the one who gave them life and was their best example of what it means to be a good and loving man.

Someone I profiled for a magazine sent me flowers this week. She was really happy about the story. I opened my door one morning and there it was, a long box with a cobalt blue mason jar vase that I just love, and unopened buds inside. I've been photographing them daily because I am alone in the house, and it is unnaturally tidy and quiet, because the news of the world blaring from the TV was giving me a stomach ache so I turned it off and am burying my sorry heart in the sand and all the while the flowers on the table are unfolding with vibrant color and life, so we are having a conversation, at least until tomorrow when my girl arrives and the world will right itself and my emotions will be love-based, and we will fly to Antigua to join the men and the rest of the family under a cobalt blue beach sky.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Flight plans

I am in a perfect storm of details related to my aunt's estate and the selling of her apartment and staving off bank foreclosure on her reverse mortgage, and what to do with all the perfectly good furniture in there which no one has space for, not her daughter or her granddaughter, and definitely not me in my little three-bedroom apartment that has already absorbed my mother's things. I'd hate to see Aunt Winnie's stuff go into a dumpster. Maybe someone at the church around the corner can use it, and there's an idea, we should check into that, even though those who will need it most won't be able to afford to move it, so we'll need to figure that out, too. It's all logistics and timing now that the will has been probated. We need to get the apartment cleared out so the painters can come in so we can sell it in a timely fashion and pay off the bank and hope there is enough left for her daughter and grandchildren and great grands so we can carry out her wishes.

In the midst of all this I am making flight arrangements for my girl to fly home from Chicago and for the two of us to fly to Antigua. My husband and son left this morning and are already there. I stayed back to travel with my daughter who will have to leave her internship a week early in order to attend her grandfather's funeral. We won't talk about the cost of all this because I am doing my thing where I tell myself the universe is plastic and all of this will work out somehow and we will cover the thousands of dollars in airfare and thousands more in funeral expenses, and (don't laugh) I've pasted a little post it on my desk that says "Money comes to me frequently and easily," and let's all manifest that, shall we?

The most exciting thing in my world is that my girl will soon be home and we will travel to Antigua together and she is the most wonderful traveling companion (so is my son), so there is that to look forward to. Then in two weeks we will travel to Jamaica to see my mom, just the kids and me, and I hope she lasts a while longer because I couldn't stand to lose her right now. Every death brings back all the others, and my father in law's death brings back the loss of my own dad, and Aunt Winnie just a couple months gone, and all the old ones inching out the door, and me hoping and praying they do a little cha cha and take their time. And I'm really a little incoherent and scattered right now, trying to keep all the details straight and the to do lists attended to, so I might not be here as much as usual, or else I might.

But hey. This sweetheart is coming home. That's enough to lift any heart.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Butterfly Garden

We will be traveling soon, and I'm not sure how much I'll be able to post here. We will see. I do want to say thank you for your condolences on the passing of my father-in-law, for whom both my husband and my son are named. He was a good and generous husband, father, son, brother, uncle, friend, my husband's lifelong inspiration for what it means to be a man. Now, his family will endeavor to send him off in the manner he deserves. That's a butterfly garden my husband and I passed by on the walk we took last evening.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Now they are together, whole and strong, and they understand everything

My husband's dad, my children's grandfather, died this morning. He had been in the hospital for the past few days, getting weaker. My wonderful father-in-law was a giant among men, one of the finest souls I have ever known, everyone's favorite as his sister said. He was my husband's hero to the end, with his big resounding laugh that never failed to get you laughing, too. I always felt as if God was in that laugh, which is to say, Love was in that laugh. Now he is reunited with his beloved, and I like to think of them up there in the blue radiance, showering grace and light on us all.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We all know

"What is really happening when we feel the ache? What is it we truly want? ...

"There is no fulfillment in it. No meaning. No luminosity. No joy. No love.

'This ache is loneliness. This ache is boredom. It is the sadness we cannot shake. The anger we're trying to hide. The fear that grips us in our solitude. The insecurity, anxiety and stress tightly wound into a ball lodged in our solar plexus that demands release. We crave something authentic. And yet we reach for its opposite. A band-aid. A balm.

"What would happen if instead we simply sat and felt the ache? What would happen if we stopped running? No one has ever died of this ache. You are not alone. We all feel it. We all know. The ache is like a knock at the door. We look through the peephole and don't recognize the stranger waiting on the other side. We're frightened. What will happen if we open the door, if we let the stranger in? What we don't realize is this: The stranger is not a stranger. The stranger is us. The stranger is a part that we have shunned, cast off. The part we need to embrace in order to once again make ourselves whole.

"Consider the ache as an awakening."

From Discovering Your Soul Signature by Desai Panache
Photo of porch by Acestyles

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


"If you ask me how long I'll be your friend, my answer will be, I don't know, 'cause I really don't know which one is longer. FOREVER or ALWAYS?"  

The quote sounds like it should be from Winnie the Pooh, but it's all over the interwebs, uncredited. 

Also, I just like the picture of my daughter and her friend last March, celebrating their twentieth turn around the sun, something these two have done together ever since they met in first grade.


Common Ground

An old friend from college reached out to me on Facebook. We were close during freshman year and always sympatico but we long ago lost touch. He fell in love with and married a woman from our then circle right after graduation and they have lived happily ever after. Their girls are now grown, the older one married. He and his wife went to Chicago for the weekend and they went dancing, he said. He wrote: "It helps to do things like this sometimes. It makes me feel as if I am still alive."

As if I am still alive.

I read once that it is important for couples to do new things together, that experiencing the mutually unfamiliar with another person bonds you. But my husband doesn't have much time for extracurriculars lately. He goes to work, goes to meetings, comes home and just wants to crash. Meanwhile I've been at home working all day and I'm ready to get out the house. We're a little out of sync over here. I'm not complaining, just taking in what is.

For the moment, my husband is very involved with our little church in transition. They are seeking a new minister, and as senior warden, my husband is helping to push that big stone up the mountain. I am not much of a church person though I do chat often with my higher power and I definitely like the concept of guardian angels. But I've just never been that church-every-Sunday-join-the-committees kind of soul. He is.

He has meetings most nights of the week and is on community boards and is very much keeping that little neighborhood church with its many needy souls humming along. His vestry managed to organize the fundraising and renovation of the beautiful but crumbling house that will serve as the rectory for the new minister. It is a city landmark building, which meant additional hoops to jump through in the renovation. But they did it. At the start it seemed an impossibly huge task for a poor little church whose basement gets flooded every time there is a hard rain, so that the undocumented homeless who shelter there come evening have to move their cots into the sanctuary. But somehow, they got it done. I am so impressed. They had the final walk through just last night.

Also last night, in a soaking rain, my husband was pumping water out the basement along with the resident jack-of-all-trades who is also the mail clerk—a lot of homeless people get their mail at the church. And now, after three years of what is called "appreciative inquiry" they are on the verge of hiring a new priest. I think it must be very satisfying to know that without your efforts the whole enterprise might have collapsed. I'm proud of him for the way he has stood in the breach for the various constituencies of the church, the people who sit on the steps all day because they have nowhere else to be, the recovered and recovering addicts, the homeless and the ex-cons who found religion, the college educated liberals with a passion for social justice, the former 60s radicals, the elders in search of community, the musicians and artists and activists, the people of all colors and persuasions who have found a place to belong. In many ways, my husband is their common ground, the one they can all relate to, the one who can translate the various and often competing concerns among the different groups.

Where was I going with this? What am I really saying here?

That I need occupation beyond my work. I need my own cause.

So I can feel as if I'm still alive.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Brothers Scott

Ever watched the two tall drinks of water known as The Property Brothers? Twins Drew and Jonathan Scott transform horrific fixer uppers into lucky people's dream homes. There are certainly worse background accompaniments to a morning of editing a manuscript about reclaiming one's dreams. This morning I worked along with Drew and Jonathan, looking up only occasionally until the moment of the big reveal, at which point I put down my pen so I could properly salivate over the open concept interiors they had put together. Always open concept, the HGTV buzz words, along with stainless steel backsplashes and granite counter-top kitchen islands and double vanity bathrooms and rain head showers and flowing hard wood floors. And then I come back to reality, to my own open concept living area and kitchen with scuffed maple floors, which is hardly what people are talking about when they describe their fantasy space to the Property Brothers. The show takes place only in Canada, of course. Everything would be way too expensive to undertake here. But a girl can dream.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Something about this picture

I see the little girl face hiding right there in plain sight in the grown up face with the black eyeliner, the 20-year-old concentration. Gosh, I miss the everyday with this girl.

And here's another snap, this one from back in the day. Just because. (I won't go into it because in the mood I'm in, I might cry. Suffice it to say, it all goes way too fast.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tilt and whirl

I'm wrestling with myself. I'm supposed to go and meet someone for drinks tonight, a person I have worked with but never met in the flesh, a lovely and funny woman over the phone, with a fascinating life story. I like her very much, and yet the introvert in me wants so badly to cancel, or at least postpone, even though I know I need to show up.

I'm not socially inept. I manage just fine once I do actually arrive but the agita associated with scheduled activities other than meeting already known friends or associates or anonymous communities (such as the co-working space), leaves me ruminating all day on how I might avoid the occasion, even when I know the grown up thing to do is just go.

Why is showing up so hard for me? What, really, is the source of the physical and spiritual anxiety I feel when faced with putting myself out there? Why is showing up so deeply uncomfortable to contemplate? Shouldn't I have grown beyond this by now?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


In a month, my children and I are going to Jamaica to see my mom and my brother and his family. I booked the flights this morning. Can't wait. Those intensely red bougainvillea are in my brother's front yard. My Aunt Grace once told me to always book trips well in advance, because then you can add to the excitement of the trip during weeks of anticipation.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Body con

I am at the stage in a project where I am more than half done, I am past all the false starts and thinking how to proceed, I have a clear idea now where I'm going, and I just want to get to the end, to draft the whole thing out, to see it whole so I can know where to patch, where to layer in more details, the redundancies that need fixing. I am eager to be done with this, to see it accomplished so I can move on to the next thing, all the next things waiting in the wings. I am past the stage of being able to intermittently work on two or even three other things while I do this. It requires my full attention now to get it done. I refused to put on street clothes today, so that the breezy blue day outside my window wouldn't tempt me. My son said he would go to the store for us, to pick up my prescription and get sundries for the house. He doesn't work on Mondays, and he has slept most of the day, rousing himself at mid afternoon to make a call related to his EMT/ firefighter ambitions. He then spent an hour in the shower and emerged wearing a pair of khaki cargo shorts, a grey tank tee and flip flops and now he's headed out the door. What must it be like, I paused to wonder, to be able to throw on any old thing and still look gloriously made, as he did, filling my doorway, a handsome well proportioned man child, warning me that my list was going to be expensive. I shrugged and thanked him and turned back to my now fixed and sprightly computer, marveling that such a perfectly articulated and optimally functioning body could have ensued genetically from this pain body I live with, and never talk about, except for now, here.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Rainy fourth, Mercury retro, my babies

Is Mercury still in retrograde? I ask because my computer is acting crazy. My trackpad is completely out of whack, the little arrow cursor thingy has developed a life of its own, dancing randomly across the screen and opening pages I did not click on. And the machine isn't yet a year old. I'm taking it in to the Apple Store this afternoon to see what they can do. We are so reliant on these flat silver boxes that have become our portal to other worlds. Not to mention the instrument of our livelihoods. If this were anything other than a Mac, I'd say I'd picked up a virus. But Mac's don't get viruses, do they? Has anyone ever heard of this?

Our fourth was spent with two dear friends who joined us in a potluck since our plans to picnic in the park got rained out. Our son was at camp by the lake with his friends, and our daughter worked all day then went out to dinner with a fellow hotelie who is also in Chicago this summer. She posted this photo on Instagram.

And that photo below was my son when he returned home on Saturday. He spent most of the morning sleeping in a very dedicated fashion. It made me happy to see him there, snoozing peacefully in our midst.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


So I am less crazy today than I was yesterday, maybe because I got my full quota of sleep last night, and I'm getting really intrigued by the notion of co-working spaces. It turns out they are proliferating in Manhattan, and that I am not the only freelancer ever to discover that endless days of working from home, while a delicious freedom, can also be lonely. I think I've found one I'm going to try next week, just a few blocks from my home, which makes it all the more likely I'll actually go there. These spaces generally have a loft like ambiance and exposed brick walls and a sort of industrial chic vibe. It could be really useful for those weeks when I have a deadline and just need to power through the writing, and every distraction possible is catching my attention at home. One of my friends, a very busy ghostwriter, might also join. We had cubicles next to one another at a magazine years ago and it would be great to look up from my labors and see her working away again. It's like having the perks of an office community, but without the corporate bosses, which at this stage sounds absolutely perfect to me.

Sometimes the magic works

There was a quote that spoke to me yesterday as I sat in the cafe of a bookstore working. I had left home because I had begun to feel isolated and shut away, and needed to be out in the world, seeing the changing tableau of people. As it turned out, my preferred seat by the great arched windows opened up soon after I arrived, and I sat at the little table, opened my laptop, and was rewarded with several hours of very productive, focused writing. In the midst of it, while checking a reference document, I found this quote by Russian journalist and playwright Isaac Babel, about the process of revising one's work.

“I work like a pack mule, but it’s my own choice. I’m like a galley slave who’s chained for life to his oar but who loves the oar. Everything about it...I go over each sentence, time and again. I start by cutting all the words it can do without. You have to keep your eye on the job because words are very sly, the rubbishy ones go into hiding and you have to dig them out – repetitions, synonyms, things that simply don’t mean anything...I go over every image, metaphor, comparison, to see if they are fresh and accurate. If you can’t find the right adjective for a noun, leave it alone. Let the noun stand by itself. A comparison must be as accurate as a slide rule, and as natural as the smell of fennel...I take out all the participles and adverbs I can...Adverbs are lighter. They can even lend you wings in a way. But too many of them make language spineless...A noun needs only one adjective, the choicest. Only a genius can afford two adjectives to one noun...Line is as important in prose as in an engraving. It has to be clear and hard...But the most important thing of not to kill the story by working on it. Or else all your labor has been in vain. It’s like walking a tight-rope. Well, there it is...We ought all to take an oath not to mess up our job”

Then, this morning, my brother-in-law sent me the following quote in connection with my June 2 post, "Love is the What." It references Schubert Ogden, author of The Reality of God and Other Essays. My brother is a deeply religious man, engaged in the long work of renovating a great ship of a cathedral, 167 years old. He cannot have known the degree to which this quote would help me resolve a very particular challenge in an editing assignment that I was, at the moment I read his email, engaged in. The universe can be wondrous. Here is what Ogden proposes is meant by our use of the word "God":

"The word God refers primarily to the objective ground in reality for our fundamental trust in the meaning and worth of life. That is, whatever it is about reality that invites and undergrids our trust in life’s meaning is what is meant by 'God.' Thus when we trust in the worth of life, we are trusting in God, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Belief in God is really inescapable for us. Even the atheist, who explicitly denies that there is a God, really does trust in God as the ground of confidence in life’s meaning. What the atheist rejects is a certain idea or concept of God."

I might go back to the same cafe this afternoon and try to get my seat next to the window. Here's hoping the magic will work as well as it did yesterday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Little things

You know, all the books on mindfulness, on positive psychology, on the law of attraction and happiness being a choice, they tell you to just shift your perspective, change your self-talk, just think happy thoughts for God's sake. I'm here to tell you that when the ache is upon you, there is not a damn thing you can do but ride it out, sit still with the desolation for as long as it lasts, watch the obsessive thought loops wind through your brain, put your head in your hands and cry.

I am thinking about inspiration, how it can ensue from the smallest, most unexpected things. I remember one night when I was visiting my cousin in Columbia, Maryland. Everyone but the two of us had already turned in, and I was alone in the living room, browsing through a magazine as my cousin cleaned up the kitchen. I looked across at one point and was struck by the sight of her wiping down the counters, cleaning and shining everything, her face meditative, filled with devotion to her task. The house was quiet and mostly dark and she had no idea she was being observed. She was patient and thorough, fully engaged, taking such loving pride in what she was doing that she literally had a light around her. I've never forgotten it, and now, every morning when I clean my kitchen, I remember her in that moment, and I make the work a moving meditation, a service of love.

It helps a little.