The unwritten life is fast food eaten standing up.
A mindless conveyor motion of bits to mouth.
Yet the primary ingredient of memory, I’m certain, is reflection.
And the unwritten is the unreflected.
Buddhist hungry ghosts lounge with bulging empty bellies on ever-encroaching peripheries.
I’m certain a life can be so consumed.
And in the tangle of the intestines of domesticity,
Who can not fault?
There just isn’t room.
For balance and chaos to live symbiotically.
The table is set for failure.
Yet those elusive quiet moments.
Caught in sighs.
Those fifteen morning minutes,
spent sewing words together.
Those midnight forages for a bedside pen,
Chicken-scratching a dusty dream,
Those tiny pauses of consideration,
Lingering on the end of the fork.
If there’s an opportunity to close my eyes.
I remind myself.
To take it.
I have four arms, four legs and forty fingers and toes. And I have two hearts, two blood types, and two brains. The latter a valid reason, I protest, for my constant state of indecision. No I don’t want dinner. I will puke if I eat. That smells terrible. Cook it away from me. Yes. Now I want some. And I want yours too. Give it to me. No questions. Thanks. My gratitude notably lacking luster as I steal and swallow my (poor, poor) husband’s dinner without shame, and leave only the silence of his lingering hunger. I feel the heaviness of his defeat making a depression in the seat next to mine. For although my husband is known to put on lawyer-like exhibitions of evidence as naturally as his favorite jeans, the man is smart enough to not put a visibly pregnant woman on the stand. Where she will inevitably be overcome with inexplicable emotion and win the jury with her Madonna tears. No. He can pick his fights wisely with our 2-year old, but with his already-waddling wife, there are #nofightsworthwinning.
MY CHILD’S CRY STIRS ME FROM BED. After he’s soothed, I crawl back under the cooled covers and just barely register the time on the clock: 5:30am. But my brain has already stirred and my thoughts toss in the sheets. They swirl around and attack this sudden fact: that I have not shared a touch with my husband in 24-hours. Not an off-to-work kiss, or a return-home from work hug, or an after-dinner cuddle on the couch. Our child is sick, and when that happens, it all becomes a game of touch and go. Touch, and handoff, of the child. Moved from the arms of one to the other, while the remaining two hands juggle pans, meds, mail, pajamas, laundry, phones, pets, bottles. In the darkness of the morning, I consider the alternate universe, where I am not pregnant and so tired that I go to bed at the same time as our toddler, where we do curl up on the couch, with my head on his chest, and I fall asleep to sound of my husband’s industrial-strength heartbeat in my ear. They say an infant’s heart aligns with that of the bosom he rests his head against, and I’ve always suspected that it is the same with lovers. And that through the business and chatter of the day, if we can just get those pulses aligned, the rest will fall into order. In the darkness of dawn, treading all these drowning thoughts, I reach out into the radiating hemisphere from the body on the other side of the bed and slip my palm into my husband’s heavy, empty hand. And in a rare moment of marital surprise, his sleepy hand responds eagerly, viscerally clutching and squeezing mine twice, as if to say: I agree and I’m here. I instinctually love you. His grip holds, and I feel the warmth and course of his blood mingling with mine. Aligning. Leaving only two sets of footprints following a trail of crumbs over the cliff of sleep.
I think I was ten years-old the first time I was accused of living in “La La Land” (by an impressionable 7th grade teacher). When I was a teenager, my parents (in an unfortunate turn of typical teen drama) learned that our small-town police network referred to me as “Queen Yo Yo” for the QYY prefixing my car license plate. And in my late 20s, a best (time-period) friend added the suffix “La La” to my first name which he’d sing down the paths of the beach resort we co-worked to call my attention. I woke up this morning looking for evidence that I sometimes live in my imagination — and I found this breadcrumb-trail of suspicious titles and nicknames. Of course, people can assign you all the adjectives they’d like, but it’s not until you’ve experienced that worldview-flipping moment directly that any new self-realization truly registers. And I think it was in my early 30s when I looked deeper into my Myers-Briggs psychological type and learned that INFPs often navigate a lofty inner world, oblivious to the fog of clouds between themselves and the other 96% of the population. Now I am in constant question of my reality in comparison to others: Is what I’m seeing more colorful, more mysterious, more interconnected, more breath-breathing, than what others are encountering? Has the web of my imagination woven all events and people into charmed caricatures of their otherwise more grey and grounded realities? Do I search my dreams (night and day) for links to this world that would only stand up the court of La La? As a citizen of the clouds, I’m not sure I’ll ever know. Instead, I simply offer the disclaimer, to both the reader and the writer, of the unofficial titles of loft and levity affixed to my name.
MY MEMORIES OF STAYS AT BORDER TOWNS ARE CONSISTENTLY DINGY. There seemed to more litter in the streets. And more stray dogs picking through it. The rooms were bare and broken, with cracks highlighted by inevitably faltering bulbs. The shadows in the streets seemed longer, and uninviting of evening adventures. The whispers, however, were the the most forbidding. In Guatemala, the restaurant owner would place a bland plate of food in front of me with a stern warning of the cartel activity in Mexico. In India, the hotel manager would inquire persistently as to why I would ever want to travel to the neighboring town in Nepal when the people were notoriously dangerous. Elevating the advice of locals higher than my guidebook, I’d hunker down in my room, reviewing maps, and questioning my route: What was I doing at this remote land crossing? Why would I ever leave the charms and comforts that I have discovered on this side of the border? In the morning, with a pack feeling heavier than normal, I’d trudge through the squinty-eyed border authorities in their menacing uniforms with weapons readily perched on walls or waists. And I’d exhale with relief when I made it to the other side, jumping on the first bus heading in any direction away from there. I’d watch the new imagery slide by under my reflection in the window, and feel the stirrings of something exhilarating, and building, in my chest. In whatever town I ultimately landed, I’d sit down to eat my first warm meal while a member of the house poured me tea commenting, “How did you ever survive India? The things I’ve heard….” and get my keys from a hotel attendant who would praise my decision to “get out of Guatemala and make it to the safety of Mexico…” And I would — finally — chuckle. Realizing that there is nothing dingier, or darker, than a neighboring unknown.
OVER THE COURSE OF THE LAST 21-MONTHS, I HAVE TRAVELLED ACROSS THREE COUNTRIES OF COLLAPSE: the death of my father and loss of two early second trimester pregnancies. If you accept the invitation to waltz with life, you accept the inevitability of obscured strangers on your dance card. Every date may ultimately be as dark, as handsome. And as the claws grew from the fingertips of my shrouded dance partners, tracking blue veins toward vitals, I out-of-body surrendered my crevassing heart. What was left, bled for months. What remained, were webbed scars in my eyes that I will never look in the mirror and not see.
In those dingy, broken border towns, I’d wake up before dawn, and organize my minimal belongings into a packing-order created out of habit: heavy, cold books at the bottom for weight-balance, crinkled maps and the warm, tough, leather of my journal slipped into the pockets within an arm’s reach. It was a task I could, and did sometimes, do by memorization in total darkness; the familiarity of blind touch bringing order to an otherwise directionless space.
What I didn’t know then, was that my travels would teach me how to move on. That sometimes in life, it would be only the ritual itself, of going through memorized motions, that would lead me, one foot in front of the other, out the door and across a border. Today, in the showing light of the other side, I’m surprised by the craggy scales revealed under a pushed-up sleeve: overlooked in, and earned by, those echoing midnight howls of grief. I see now that these newly taloned nails will be essential in the scramble across similar scarps of neighboring unknowns. And that every dusty step of this pilgrim path has leathered my life in preparation for the next.
(I’ve been experimenting with microblogging as way to fit writing exercise into my almost-daily life. The following are a few, unrelated, paragraphs drafted in an effort to chase the elusive creative life from the cracks of parenthood…)
A DIET OF 200 WORDS PER DAY. I’m not sure I even know what blocky-form a congregation of such sentences look like. But let’s see where this goes. At the loss of a little sleep. At the expense of a rare and captured quiet moment normally spent in delicious silence reading the news. At the cost of a cuddle in bed with a lover with whom I have only spoken in the language of life management logistics for the last 24-hours. At the risk of arousing my toddler from his sleep with my *softest* typing. Knowing very well that before I reach 200 words, I might more likely hear, “Momma! It’s nice out there. Get me up momma. Momma?!” In motherhood, every moment is stolen. Every minute comes with an opportunity cost tag. If I’m typing, I might lose a minute in joint-investigation of the red-bearded woodpecker in the aspen tree out the window. If I’m joint-investigating, I’ll lose that fleeting minute I need to catch the tail of a novel thought barely glimpsed in the sunlight between the trees. And there is a sweet spot between the two: where my child discovers on his own without a want for (the waste of) adult commentary, and yet at the same time, witnesses the independent and creative life of his mother. Oh sweet spot. I have my eye on you. 228 words.
that very precious moment
THE BEST THING I EVER DID WAS TEACH MY CHILD TO LOOK AT THE SKY. Something about the clouded perspective of adulthood means I never catch him in the act of searching, but only take note when his arm is outstretched like an exclamation point across my omni-armed aim of accomplishing ten tasks at once, and he declares, “Momma. There’s the Moon right there.” And I stop. That very precious moment of stopping. The reason children humble us to better, smaller, more human beings. I drop all my busy, dumb thoughts and look at the sky. And there it is, often just the palest crescent, hanging delicately in a hazy horizon of blues and white. And I marvel that he’s found, and brought me to this moment. And say, “Why that IS the moon right there.”
SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL HAPPENS IN THE SPACE WHERE WORDS ARE LOST. I’ve noticed it myself, growing, in the pause between sentiments that just can’t be contained in a sentence. And last night, a minute after dabbing a little local anesthetic on a mouth sore that was keeping my child awake, he rubbed his eyes in exhaust and astonishment and said, “Momma? Ouchie flew away in the sky!” And isn’t that just how pain exits? Lofted on the downy wings of a strong breeze? Whisked away as inconceivably fast as it arrived? Has anything ever been said so well? A month ago, he was stung by a bee captured in his hand from the windowsill. And as the bee dizzily droned out the open sliding glass door, my child looked up at me and in the middle of his streaming tears said, “The bee is going back to work.” So, yes, I’m making a case that my 2-year old is a poet. But more, I’m realizing that our verbal limitations, real or feigned, force us back to the fertile grounds of what may have otherwise been overstepped. My 2-year old and I are on the same quest, exploring the space between words where we are similarly lacking in equipment, but treading precariously anyway. “Big jump!” he announces just in time for me to turn around and and see him leap from the bed to the floor. “Stomped it,” he quietly assesses with the ski-vocabulary he’s inherited from his Pappa. How far can I leap without explaining myself, I wonder? It’s clear from his example, the further the distance, the more exhilarating the travels.
(The following is a generalized version of a wedding speech/letter I recently wrote for a girlfriend…)
In my (fused) professional-personal community of entrenched international experiential educators, there is an archetypal woman. Her 20’s (and often 30’s) all but vanished in a flurry of global assignments and expeditions accepted without hesitation. She is proficient in a foreign language or three, and fluent in the discourse of the heart. She’s been weathered by all that she’s witnessed, yet wears the scars of her stories with grace. She has earned her laugh lines early in life, and is also ever ready to shed an empathetic tear across them. She beats her heart, like the dust out of a rug, through prose, form, depression, dance, chant, or song. This woman: She is travelled. She is inspired. She is accomplished. She is evasive. And, she sheds men with the seasons.
To the observer (family included), her life design might appear haphazard. But let me assure you, there is sub rosa blueprint to her architecture. What she is doing is the inspection and heavy lifting of each stone that will forge the foundation of her life. And if this is not clear – it is the foundation of a life without a partner that she is building. For not only is she wary of a man’s intentions and purpose, but she wants full ownership of the house from which one day she’ll sit on the porch in her old-age and reflect, read, write, pet her cat, and wave. (And frankly, in the long run, she’ll outlive her husband anyway, so there’s no sense in building upon his foundation.)
So it’s a joyous event when this woman selects a life partner. The first thing to celebrate is that this particular man had the courage to approach this woman, who by all appearances does not need him. The second quality to honor is his intelligence (and self confidence) in recognizing the work she has put into her foundation not as something intended to make him small by comparison, but as that which adds character, depth, experience, and strength to their union. And here’s the secret that my husband, and the partners of other women in my community know: That as independent as she may appear on the outside, what this woman seeks, and needs, is someone who, gently, makes space for her softness to surface. Someone who isn’t alarmed by, but comfortable with her tears. Someone who does not leach the strength she has spent her lifetime accumulating, but who encourages forth femininity from the fortress she has built. And yes, this woman also needs someone who brings both checks and balances to her sometimes-righteous sense of self-government. Ultimately, what she needs is a partner who can shoulder the leaning-in of she who will construct her dreams tirelessly, until her partner gives her the permission to — and arms within which — she can rest.
Congratulations to every woman who finds and lets that man into her life. It is no small feat to lower the drawbridge and invite in, what will surely be a humbling unknown. And congratulations to any male who is that man. While (a least for my husband) there remains the tiny threat of the realness and allure of a solo path that was sacrificed in the merging of two, he may also enjoy the sweetness of being truly chosen as a companion, not only above all other men, but single life paths too.
my 2-year old, every night, soothes himself to sleep by recounting the objects and events that have made an impression on his day…
“goodnight bumble bee”
(If you haven’t noticed, there’s a rumbling-buzzing sound theme.)
And no, the connection between this ritual and the research on daily gratitudes is not lost on me.
The black pop-ups on my phone today twist my gut…
“Surface-to-Air Missile Shot Down Malaysian Airliner”
“Israel Begins Ground Assault in Gaza”
Nothing registers the sight of a child’s corpse like the nights you slip into your own child’s bedroom to watch him sleep.
I’m attending a workshop in September by a legend-of-a-woman, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. On my morning hike, by way of podcast, she said (something to the effect of)…
Mend the parts of the world that are within your reach. For the rest, pray.
Thunder has a funny way of starting out suddenly, and big.
Last night, a single crack and ground-shaking roar left my 2-year old screaming from his crib, “I’m scared!” (interestingly, the first emotion he’s learned to communicate).
I swooped him up, wrapped him in blanket, and held his head to my chest. I pressed my chin over the top of his head, took in the scent of his hair, and thought (as I often do): this is the best-yet moment of my life.
There is nothing more comforting or right than the feeling of effectively protecting your child.
I shudder to imagine the truth of the reverse.
So life is heavy, like those thunderous skies.
But I’ll heed today’s teachers: Dr. E and my 2-year old.
And hug what I’ve got, reach out to those I can, and get on my knees and pray for the mothers who could not protect their children today.
You know what people don’t tell you about?
The intimacy of tragedy.
The collapse into the lap of your lover; not in elated exertion…. but in grief.
The speechlessness; not of direct eye contact… but of downcast mutual understandings.
The timelessness; not of unrelenting focus…. but of sheer sadness.
The physical exhaust; not of lust…. but of depression.
The upholding; not to lofty heights….but when the ground is absent.
The hand squeezes; not confirming secrets… but in warning or recognition of the pain that is either coming or going.
The tears; not the hot ones in irrational fear of the loss of something abstract… but the cold, resigned, ones, shed upon that which is already gone.
The insomnia; not of a racing heart, but a stumbling spirit.
The lack of appetite; not from being emotionally overfed, but from a disinterest in the pettiness of the physical.
The infatuation; not with he who you’ve elevated with unrealistic expectation, but for he who has trudged his way to the top of your pedestal.
Life will never be fair, transparent or forthright. It’s just not in its nature. Nor am I foolish enough to foster such expectations. Loss, death, and pain – they are the inevitable valleys of the mountains I’ve chosen to climb. I get that. And shake hands, respectably, with life still. Yet as I surface, now, from tragedy, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m experiencing all the symptoms of a romance hangover. And I’m left with the hazy, bewildered, guess, that be it a partner (in which case it is for me) or Life itself, there is as much intimacy in sharing loss, as in sharing love.
Shamefully, I had to be notified by a reader that solbeam.com was down. And it turned out to be a bit of mystery where my site was exactly hosted (and another if it continued to exist). Breath was held. And breath, recently, was released. Though as I poke around, I see there are plenty of quirky critters in the corners (never mind the dust!). (If you bump into errors, please let me know.) And speaking of cobwebby corners, I just found a drawer full of unread letters in my Facebook so-called “other” folder. One of them read, “I had no idea you had a child and family now!” Now would I have deserted solbeam.com for just anyone? Look at that face on the swing. Can you blame me? Excuses aside, I’m contemplating a cameo return to my own production (if that’s possible). Short and sweet stuff. That can fit in between the teeth of managing a full time job, toddler, and household. It probably won’t be worth reading. But it might be worth writing. (If you blog/write, you get the distinction.) I’m rather skilled at catching flying noodles these days. Perhaps I’ll be able to snatch an interesting thought or two (that seem to fly by at the same speed as chucked pasta) and get them to stick to the wall of this site. No promises. If having a toddler has taught me anything in life, it’s how to shrug my shoulders, give up, and smile.