On wading in: Day 30.

This is the last post of my September commitment, an exploration of a month-long journey to “wade in” to the currents and eddies of my life.  It’s hard, producing something every day that you’re not plain embarrassed to post; it’s hard finding meaningful ways to look at your life when you’re tired and scattered and worn down.  But like most writers, I find regular practice does in fact support more and better writing; like most mindfulness practitioners, I find regular commitment does in fact sustain clearer vision and deeper breathing.  No news here.

I thought I’d like to sift back through the posts of this month and pull together their various tools or insights, the images I liked the best, the ideas you seemed to like the best.  But then I realized that that would feel like more dodging — the kind of subtle, artful dodging I’ve come to understand as my most pernicious habit.  I’d do it under the guise of critical review, or summative reflection, or some other noble impulse, when it’s also really a way for me to avoid saying anything new.

So here are some things that have been sticking with me, in the ways that my “wading” approach to life encourages:

Our favorite farmer at the market comes from Somalia and spent years in the Dadaab refugee camp before coming here.  She participates in the market through a program called Fresh Start (formerly the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project), which engages new Mainers who used to farm back home in farming here, offering land and lessons in climate and crops.  Every week after we buy what we need, she sneaks around from behind her stall and tucks into our bag, or hands to one of our small boys, something extra: a pepper, a head of broccoli, a delicata squash.  It is a gesture so kind and familiar that every week it breaks my heart open a little.  And I want to ask her — someday I will — if during those brutal years of flight and transition, and even now in the difficult journey of her life, if she hoped to feed a family like mine.  Because she feeds us.  She is our farmer and she gives us nourishment.  I love her strength and power and generosity, and I am grateful for it, for her, for the funders and organizers and smart people who made it possible for someone kicked off her own patch of earth to nourish others from a new one.

Also, just today: my boys and I raked the driveway leaves (drier than the fog-ridden lawn-leaves) into a big pile and jumped and tossed and buried each other in the heap for a lovely warm half-hour.  Then Ezra wandered up the driveway a bit to gather a new handful and began to scream.  I turned toward him, running already, as he bent over, batting at his face and clothes and screaming, screaming, screaming.  Just a few weeks before, he’d noticed a yellow-jacket hive in the maple over the driveway, but it had clearly been there all summer and we had never had any problems, so we let it be, hoping for an early frost.  But all of a sudden, they swooped in on this tiny man, stinging him four times on the face and neck and twice on the hand.  One sting, on his eyebrow, actually drew blood.  He was sobbing and shaking in full-blown panic — of course!  — as I batted away the remaining bees and hauled him down the driveway toward safety.  It took nearly an hour for the tremors to subside completely, and an hour more for him to externalize enough to look out the window and explain that those yellow-jackets were the ones that had stung him.  His left eye is still swollen shut, but he’s back in the saddle now, and I can’t help but marvel at the resilience of his being.  A massive, painful assault, out of nowhere, in the middle of a joyful morning’s play, and he can squint his way back to a recognition that maybe they thought he was a danger to their nest.  I am astonished all over again at the courage of a human who hasn’t yet lived for four years on this earth.  (Or maybe, I suppose, that’s the ticket.)

As we leave September now and head into October, things pick up speed: our fifteenth anniversary; many, many family birthdays; various programs and projects I’m working on will move ahead more quickly.  But I want to carry this month of transition, of intention, of courage and hope, with me into the rest; I want to remember that time is both more finite and more elastic than I pretend; I want to choose more often the life-giving activities that make more of me and of us.  I want to develop my capacity to know what I’m avoiding and to look at it in clear light; I want to dive in more deeply where and when I can.  (There, I should add, is my one pleasure at releasing this commitment to daily posting: some of these ideas need longer exploration and more research, and there’s been no time on this schedule.  But soon, soon.)  Thanks for reading along on these daily posts!  I look forward to hearing from you as it all keeps unfolding.

On wading in: Day 22. The things I’m still avoiding.

It is clear to me that this month has involved a lot more wading into life than usual.  It shows up in the games we play with the kids, the conversations we have together, the increased singing, the greater appreciation of what’s around me, the enhanced interest in our slow-food processes of homegrown goodness.  (Today, for example, we started off with pumpkin-oat waffles; enjoyed a fabulous leftover white-bean-and-buttercup-squash soup for lunch; found a rack of lamb in the downstairs freezer that we roasted with garlic and rosemary, accompanied by sliced broiled delicata squash and kale sauteed with garlic.  It’s a hardship.)

These are the areas of life that soothe me, that fill me up and calm me down.  And I’m glad I’ve learned to love those, to try to live within them, because for much of my life I would have coded such satisfaction as “boring,” not understanding the depth of joy and contentment and the peace that they bring.

But every so often I am reminded that there’s more to me than this.  There are big important issues that I want to work on, skills and gifts that ask me to do more.  I tend, lately, to suppress those, to nod and smile while focusing elsewhere.  It’s the spiritual equivalent of facebooking while your kids are talking.  And it’s one of the things that needs to change.

See, I’ve assumed all along that the Big Important Stuff cannot peaceably coexist with the daily habits of joy.  But it also seems true that perhaps they cannot peaceably coexist without one another.  So now I ask, again, what it looks like to bring them together.

Some aspects of that are already in place: public humanities work that seeks to explore how we can talk civilly with different others across disagreements; other public humanities work that offers novels as a way to understand our relationships to land, culture, and food; board work that tries to open new avenues to social impact instead of just programmatic outcomes.  But there’s more.  I wonder: would more and different kinds of writing be a way in?  A new blog on the horizon, this one focused on the professional concerns I seek to address?  Who knows.

For now, I am glad to have this discipline here and this set of lenses through which to examine the life I lead.  But I also see that I can rise to the risk I set for myself.  Perhaps it’s time to pose a new challenge: go to the heart of what matters in professional life as in personal.  It was my way for fifteen years; there’s no reason it can’t be again. The fact of being a parent makes me a better person, a clearer thinker, a more compassionate human.  And it also helps me see more clearly what matters and what doesn’t.  Instead of feeling pushed out of my professional world (as most of us do, who “step off the track”), perhaps I can just speak my truths wherever I am, whatever they may be.  Scary — but after all, what’s the alternative?  I worry about arriving at the end of this stage of life and feeling that I bottled up too much, that I didn’t participate in conversations I needed.  Fear of rejection, mostly, is what keeps me mute, and fear is what I’m most ready to release.

Sigh.  We’ll see how this shakes out.

On wading in: Day 9. Seeing clearly.

There are a number of things that my husband and I are not good at, and one of them is regular household maintenance.  He is genuinely relaxed about it, whereas I suffer a low-grade chronic anxiety over all the neglect.  Doesn’t matter: we don’t do a thing.

But sometimes I get to realizing that my life would be happier without the chronic anxiety.  And that maybe some of the things I’m anxious about are, in fact, fixable.  So every once in a while, we get all over it (see Day 7: Gettin’ it done).

What I don’t usually anticipate are the lovely results.  For the past two days, for example, I’ve been opening all the blinds on all the windows and gazing out the windows admiringly.  When teased about this behavior, I responded truthfully: “But I’m loving looking OUT the window instead of AT the window.”  Because that was what I had done for the last, oh, five years.  I’d look at the clouded, spotted, smudged surface that was supposed to be glossy clean, and I’d feel like a failure.  It was a very quiet voice and a very quick sort of seeing, but it was there.  Today, I just see the emeralds and golds and blues of this early fall day.

As ever, there’s a lesson here for me.  Letting go of, or doing away with, the obstacles to joy is a whole lot easier than I think.  It may take time, organization, and elbow grease, but it’s something, often, that I can plan for, engage others in, and DO.  What it takes most of all, though, is a willingness to see clearly what the obstacle is — and how to fix it — and, most importantly, how to honor its removal and revel in the joy of a new openness in my life.

Today was an “Ezra-Mama-Chi day,” as Ezra has coined them (in case you couldn’t tell from the order of names), from Len’s departure at 7:45 until his return at 6:45.  And it was the best such day we’ve ever had.  Why?  I think it had to do with all that clear sunlight streaming into the house and all the crystalline simplicity it brought with it.  Playground?  Why sure.  Duck pond?  Absolutely.  Hungry for muffins?  Let’s make some.  We’ve got this here zucchini and our favorite new recipe (Martha Stewart’s recipes really are, often, impeccable).  Naptime was later than usual because of all the story requests, but hey — there are worse things than extra reading.  There was one small meltdown, which I met with love (“I KNOW how hard it is to listen sometimes, but I REALLY want to read you stories before bed, and Mama can’t read to a boy who doesn’t listen…so what do you think?  Can you work harder on listening?  Let’s practice!”).   I did, of course, flash forward a few times to all the Things I Have To Do Tomorrow, but for once I could see clearly: tomorrow is tomorrow.  Let’s write those puppies down and look at the list…tomorrow.

In short, I felt powerful, loving, loved, contained, expansive, generous, whole.  My work felt new, my life fulfilling, my family part of my art.  This, I imagine, is perhaps the whole point.

On wading in: Day 1

Rabbit rabbit, or whatever you say to herald the new month.

It’s September.

Everyone’s going back to school, cleaning up, settling down.

Except for me. I’m jumping off a cliff.

Well, that’s what it feels like anyway. I’m wading into a vast unknown ocean of freedom to choose my projects and commitments, and I’m equal parts thrilled and horrified. So to avoid checking out entirely and spending the next month with my head in the sand, I’ll be starting a little group instead. The September group, I’d like to call it. Join us by following and commenting here, and by checking in on Facebook (The September Group: On Crafting a Life).

What’s funniest is that sticking my head in the sand is only half of my usual response to freedom and opportunity. The other half is manic activity, and what’s kind of worrying is that we never quite know how long these cycles will take. And when it’s, say, six months in the sand, well, that’s not really something we can afford. So like all efforts toward health, we’re not trying to eliminate the pendulum swings, but rather to bring them back to center a little more quickly. And that seems mostly like a process of mindfulness.

So here I am: Day 1 of a 30-day adventure in checking in, writing down, reaching out. I’m looking forward to hearing what all of you have to say about your lives and projects. Here’s mine, today:

My baby boy got his first haircut today — I couldn’t bear to cut it too short, which was fine because he kept wanting to hold the comb. He loved how it sounded when he ran it against the edge of the water glass. (And how fascinating that his big brother could always sit perfectly still and watch a show, but Chi is all in love with how everything works and sounds and feels…)

We spent some excellent time in the garden, earning Chi his new nickname: Tomato Joe. He CANNOT leave them alone. Seeds everywhere. It’s gorgeous. And if any of you have ever considered growing haricot vert (bush green beans that don’t get huge): try Masai. From Fedco Seeds. I’ve never seen a more prolific bean — and so delicious! And patient with a late harvest! Also, I have to note the asclepias (butterfly weed) in its orange profusion of gorgeousness. It’s self-sowing and I’m letting it, because I’ve seen zero butterflies this year. Total. And not one in my garden. I am gravely worried for our world.

I finished Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation last night, and I can’t recommend it enough. Silly, beautiful, profound, painful, awe-inspiring, concerning, and consciousness-raising. It’s a fun trip and one you’re glad you took.

My best work today (usually, in fact, I’m seeing) is happening when I don’t quite mean to Work. I fall into it because it’s fascinating. I’m trying now to let that falling happen. (Years ago, my insightful and loving mother-in-law gave me a card that said “Books fall open and we fall in…” and I’m realizing that books aren’t the only things the universe holds open for us.)

What else? This is clearly a strange and disjointed practice, like mind-dumps, like photo-editing at the end of a trip. But day by day, I imagine this one way we find courage and continuity and compassion and creativity. I hope so, anyway. We’ll try it for a while and see.

On carnage

(And for those of you from war-torn parts of the world, please understand I mean no disrespect when I use the term “carnage” in the context of these very first-world problems…but carnage it is.)

So today I learned that squirrels are nest predators.  They eat (and by eat, I mean kill, disembowel, distribute widely, and eat very little of) baby robins.  Who might be, say, nesting on my pergola under the grapevines.  Right near my deck.  Where I’m finding their dismembered bodies.  The greatest mercy here (to me) is that my sons neither found any of the carnage nor know of it; the greatest mercy I hope for (for the robins) is that they were all killed at once.  I will stop that train of thought right there.  I want you to sleep tonight.

These are the same squirrels, I might add, who in previous years would dig up tulip bulbs in order to take single bite and then leave the damaged, useless remainder right on the bench where I like to sit.  Len was once actually mooned by a squirrel (I confess, he had just been throwing walnuts at it), but that was in Iowa.  These East Coast squirrels just give you the finger and eat everything you care about.  And they all seem to have gone beserk at once: we coexist peacefully for most of the year, and then all of a sudden they kill all the baby birds AND remove a full third of the peaches, still green on the tree.  The pits are now littered across the swing set.

In other news, we have another groundhog.

Son of a #%*(^@#?!.  For real.  Those $&%#&*@$?!!s.

You want to know the really neat thing, though?  I recently turned down two adjunct teaching jobs because it’s increasingly clear that I need room to build my work.  And that’s amazing and freeing and terrifying and beautiful.  More on that later…but I’ll add here that I’ll be starting a support group for the people who are crazy enough to step off the beaten path and believe they can make their own way.  There may be drinking; there will certainly be chocolate.  Join us (online or in person) if you can.