Thursday, May 25, 2017

Poetry fun

Once every few weeks I play a poetry game with my creative writing class. I have a bin of words taken from various poetry books, random words that I like; dust, bamboo, spotless, sherbet...we each choose a word out of the box and use that word in a line of poetry. After the line is written we pass the word to the person next to us. My the time we have chosen four or five stanzas worth of words we have poems, using the same words. The poems are all completely different and fun to read out loud. Here is one of the first I wrote with my class.

Branches canopied over the deep forest floor -
a tent breaking the horizon into shards
of glass. The roots, selfless in
their hold, spring into amber twilight.

Imperfect buds wrap tightly,
ready to open purposefully when
clumsy Spring makes her appearance -
daffodils mirrored in muddy waters
while bullfrog bellies bloat.

Centuries of mating songs echoing
in dark damp earth. Nothing
prepares you for the closeted song -
females - choosy in their search for love
find solace in raspberry bushes
and the canopy of vines.

Can you figure out which words I was forced to use?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Finding My Play Again

When my sister and I were little we had a swing set in our backyard, complete with monkey bars and slide. We would swing across the monkey bars, do front and back flips on the side bars, and spend hours pumping our legs, swinging higher and higher trying to touch the branches of a silver maple which shaded our afternoon romps. Our young bodies became strong and agile while we played, no need for free weights or cardio machines. Years later my adult self grasped onto the monkey bars while working as a camp counselor. I lifted my legs. The little girl inside said go for it. The adult body said hell no. I could not even make it to the second bar. I was not a weakling, I ran, I lifted weights, and practiced yoga (still do), yet I could not support my weight, nor let go for long enough to grasp the second bar.

When did I lose my ability to actively play? I know that many people play sports as adults, amuse themselves at carnivals and other forms of entertainment, but the play that I lost was an all encompassing, total body immersion kind of play. The kind where I hang upside down, twirl around and around on a swing, and run full speed and do a cartwheel in the grass, barefoot. The kind of play where I climb a tree, do a back bend or swing from a tire. I drive by playgrounds today and see adults, supervising little children as they let go and allow themselves to have full body fun, to watch the tree tops as they swing higher and higher and jump when the swing is still 6 feet in the air. I want to be that child again. I have tried, believe me, but my hips get pinched in the narrow swings, the backs of my thighs stick to the metal slides and my arms do not support my weight on the monkey bars.

So where am I going with this? At the risk of sounding like an advertisement (it really isn't,) I tried aerial yoga for the first time a few months ago. Not only was it a killer workout for my upper body, but it allowed me that full body play, which once I gained back I realized I had been missing. The class involved swinging, climbing, and hanging upside down. I left feeling energized, yet like I had a full body workout, to which my screaming triceps the following day can attest. I am not saying that everyone is missing play, but I was. I look forward to my biweekly classes at Berkcirque. I am also slightly tempted to invest in a tree swing in my back yard (while I still have health insurance). If someday you do see a 43 year old woman attempting to cross the monkey bars in the neighborhood playground, don't worry, it's just me, attempting to "play."
In the Berkshires: Berkcirque
Elsewhere: A good Google search will get you where you need to go.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Writing Hiatus

It has been a busy year. I finally landed the perfect job, and spent the last 9 months learning the ropes, preparing curriculum and teaching high school students some of my favorite books, The Canterbury Tales, Othello, The Hound of the Baskervilles, in addition to some modern short stories and poetry. So I haven't been writing.

Summer is winding down, and I am now preparing for a new school year. I have been itching to write, have been jotting down ideas and thinking through posts, but for some reason I have not taken the time to sit down at the computer, login and write. Writing brings me pleasure. Writing helps me to sort out any issues that arise, it helps me to put life into perspective, to make sense of the world and my reactions to the world. But, I have not taken the time to sit down and write. Why? Writing is something that helps me to make sense of a chaotic world and I choose to put it off. I will do it another day. Maybe chaos is just too comfortable. Maybe I don't want to see my part in a Facebook argument, or really look at how I could use a little dose of humility. Maybe I don't want to confront my negative mind.

So this post is my statement to the world (or the couple of people who will read this). I need to write. I do not necessarily need to write the next great American novel. I just need to write this post, insert a picture of the porcupine munching raspberries in my backyard, and hit publish. I need to start, after a long time of putting it off. Hiatus Over.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Be kind to your body: lizards and pigeons included

A few weeks ago a woman posted a question on a social media platform. Apparently she had had a baby a year ago, was eating healthy, running and really trying to lose the baby weight. She had managed to lose most but the fat around her belly. How, she asked, could she get rid of that fat? It was gross and unattractive. I was saddened by this woman's hatred of her post-pregnancy body. I wrote a reply, advising her to be kind to the body that recently gave birth, quite a miracle. Many people agreed with me, advising her to be nice to herself.  Our bodies change as a result of childbirth and menopause. It was pretty soon after however, that I forgot that advice. I was in a yoga class, in Lizard pose, which in itself is not for the weak. Your forearms are on the floor, right next to your calf. I did not commend my body for twisting into this pose, I berated it. Looking at my back leg, all I saw was fat, bulging from my hip. I caught myself soon after, but the damage was done. I, who had just advised a woman to be kind to herself, had forgotten to be kind to myself. I was picking apart my body, and looking at its "weakness" rather than its strength. As a culture we are taught to pick apart our bodies. "Get firmer thighs in thirty days," one ad boasts, while another, "for plump lips try our amazing gloss." Not only are we fat, but our fat is in the wrong place. After years of eating healthy and exercising I am not immune. I bemoan the fact that I cannot wear high boots, cannot even get them over my calves. Instead of be grateful that I have the calf muscles of a football player, I grieve the loss of DSW boots. I guess it comes down to treating oneself the same as you would treat others. I would never tell another woman that she had big thighs or her breasts weren't perky enough. But I constantly repeat those messages to myself, to my body, this vehicle that runs 6 miles a day and can do a handstand. Next time I give advice, I need to sit back and ask whether or not I could take the advice I am giving. But for now, I will attempt to love my lizard, large calves and all. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Rough Road Ahead

I stumbled upon this sign on my run the other morning, and I started thinking about how nice it would be if life came with warning signs. "Warning: Bitter Divorce Ahead," "Death of Beloved Pet Soon," "Job Loss Around Corner." Would I live my life any differently if I knew when the rough patches were coming? In 2008 when I quit my job to go back to school and work toward my Bachelor's degree, I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I could never have foreseen the years of looking for a job after college, or the second degree I needed to obtain to be gainfully employed in my chosen field. The journey was harder than I thought: four years of financial hardship and juggling school, commuting and raising my son, followed by four years of looking for a full-time permanent position in my chosen field. Maybe if I knew just how difficult before embarking, I would have never taken the leap into the unknown. That leap positively changed my life, however. I now have a career, a brand new job working with supportive people and two degrees. My college experience provided me with a challenge that my intellect craved, introduced me to areas of study I would have never known existed, and forced me to grow up. The job search forced me to completely turn  my life over to God, and the results were beyond my wildest dreams. I went from cleaning up after people and animals to teaching The Canterbury Tales. Would I have braved the rough roads if I knew that they weren't merely bumpy, but filled with tire-bursting craters? Probably not, fear of the unknown, and the comfort of the status quo would have kept me in place.  When do I let go of my brilliant plans and allow life to be a surprise? 

I passed the sign, continued down the road; the road that was freshly paved. It was not, like the sign had warned, rough. The mist lifted as I rounded the bend, revealing freshly baled hale and red-winged blackbirds. The scent of pine, grass and summer wildflowers hung in the air. And I was running. And it was good.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Bucket Lists for Dabblers

Bucket List: A list of things to do before you "kick the bucket."

I was surprised (not sure why) to find a website where people keep track of their bucket lists, and find ideas and like-minded people: . I don't know why I have been thinking about bucket lists so much lately, possibly because I turned 42 today, and somehow feel as if I am not exactly where I am supposed to be. Intellectually I know that my Higher Power plops me right where I need to be, but I somehow feel as if I missed a turn someplace, and kept walking straight when I should have veered off the path. I have been so intent on procuring the degree and the license and the job, and listening to the voices, the voices of friends and family, of our culture, of the "right" way to do things, that I believe I have forgotten to listen to myself. Where do I want to go? What do I need to be doing in order to end up there, and is it really about the destination anyhow?

Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, gave the commencement address at my son's college graduation a few weeks ago. He urged the graduates to follow their passions, to work every day at something they are passionate about, and the rest will follow. If one is a photographer, take pictures, don't wait to be asked to photograph the Andes for National Geographic. Or to steal a phrase from Nike, Just Do It. I could never pinpoint just one passion however, could never say with certainty growing up that I wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a candlestick maker. My parachute wasn't green or violet or even chartreuse. I am a dabbler, I am passionate about so many things: yoga, writing, teaching, meditation, spirituality, animals, and the list will grow. How can I, as a dabbler, settle down into a career, stumble upon my purpose? Keep in mind, I turned 42 at 8;15 this morning. I want to work toward my degree in Medieval Literature, teach college courses, teach high school, and yoga, I want to teach creative writing, and write another novel, I want to compose music and lead meditation circles, I want to be a priest, a life coach, a mentor, a public speaker. I want to lead vinyasa yoga and teach children how to write poetry. How, just how do all of those various interests and skills and passions come together to create something unique and beautiful? Right now I am left with threads of many different colors, tangled on the floor.

So I return to the breath. What is happening in this very moment? I am writing a blog post, I am enjoying the sounds of the keys clicking, the songbirds playing and an occasional passing car. I am gazing at the beautiful painting my amazing partner gave me for my birthday, I am getting ready to head out for a yoga class, my belly filled with yummy vegan chocolate cake and chai. The rain has ceased for the moment and what is left is green and lush. I don't have to make any decisions today, I have a job for another few weeks, I have possibilities for the summer, all is just as it should be. I just need to slow down and listen, instead of trying to untangle the mess of multicolored yarn, I need to ask for guidance and listen, to use my intuition to begin to untangle the mess on the floor. Can I just slow down and listen? Good question.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

On Loss and Living

Elisabeth Kubler - Ross, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, identified five universal stages of the grieving process: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To experience and then move through grief, not all stages need to be experienced, nor in a particular order.  We all experience life in our own unique ways.

I have experienced all of these stages when dealing with death, the initial shock, the why not someone else, the tears, and finally the gentle letting go. I remember being shocked at how angry I became after a dear friend committed suicide and the subsequent guilt for that same anger. How dare he do this to his family and friends? How dare I feel that way? Why didn't I notice he was in pain? These extreme tragedies take a toll on the body, emotionally and physically. It is understandable to go through extreme emotion when death occurs. It is the smaller losses that I have a harder time navigating and do not always allow myself the time and space to grieve and mend.

Let me take one small step back. I have been looking for full time, meaningful work for the past four years. Within that span of years, I have pieced together small jobs, usually just enough money to eek through, pay some bills and keep myself stuffed with tofu and kale. On a few occasions, I have actually obtained longer stints of temporary work, work that entailed months of steady work and income. It has been the loss of those longer stints, one just recently, that have proven intensely painful.

Now I am not comparing the loss of a loved one to the loss of a job, there is no comparison, however I am exploring whether the stages of grief can explain the complicated, convoluted feelings that I experience after my employment losses. First the denial and isolation, the initial, "I am so ok," accompanied by a huge smile and race to a far off location to cry by myself. Second, the "fuck you and your mother and all of her distant relatives." Third, the dreaded if onlies..."If only these people were different, or I was a transvestite from Jupiter..." Fourth, the utter ridiculous sadness, that realization that the health insurance is gone, I will have no money to eat and I will be living in a cardboard box (albeit a recycled one) for the rest of my life. Finally the acceptance, the knowledge that God does for me what I cannot do for myself. I cannot leave a place. I cannot even call in sick. I will stay in a situation until the bitter end, the marriage until all cards have been played (and it was a double deck) and only leave when I am broken. I believe that the Universe has my number. I need to be booted. And I need to find that ray of elusive hope fluttering in the breeze. In order to find that hope however, I have to stay with the feelings, to be here, in the present moment, in the uncomfortable, messiness of it all. Throughout the whole process though, I need to ignore the voice of the "You Suck Monster" and listen to the voice of the Divine, that voice that has always guided me, that has always gently kept me from situations that do not serve my Higher Purpose. I need to trust in the process, that gentle unfolding of life.

It is a beautiful day, and as I gaze out the windows I know that I still have a few more months of a paycheck, that maybe I will take that Yoga Teacher Training course this summer, or maybe something else. Fifteen years ago, I would never have thought I would be right where I am today. Fifteen years ago I was struggling to raise my son, battling with addiction and stuck in an unhealthy marriage. The Universe took care of me then, and it will surely take care of me now. I just have to open my hands, ask for help, and be ready to receive the answer.