Happiness in Winter

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Sometimes I'm S.A.D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing. Some of us Washingtonians know it well. September is heaven. Half of October usually, too. We're so busy loving the fall colors that we give the first big storms a pass, and we're looking forward to Thanksgiving and getting cozy by the fire. December is generally miserable, but there are lots of artificial lights and sweets to go around. January 1 is tinged with "Fresh Start!" energy.

But. You guessed it. Janaury 2 the SADness can really set in. Especially when one stops to calculate that the sog and deep gray likely won't let up until July 5 (The July 4 parade will be rained out. Count on it.) February and March are the hardest. I can't count the number of people I've run into around town the last couple weeks who are fantasizing about moving to San Diego.

Some years are worse than others. I wish I could figure out a formula: If I just do _______, it will be easier. Bad news for you, reader. No formula. For some reason, this year, though just as wet and dreary, hasn't been so oppressive.

Here are some things making me happy this winter:

Organic Produce Box. For 3 or 4 years, we've been getting a Tuesday delivery from Dandelion Organics. They source from as many local purveyors as possible and, in the dead of winter, find other places to get the riot of color that fills those tubs every week. They even leave a treat for the dog. When I come home on Tuesday evenings and see that blue box on the porch, it feels like Merry Christmas. Or Happy Valentines Day. Or You're-Allowed-to-Take-Care-of-Yourself-and-Support-a-Sustainable-Local-Business Day.

My Kick-Ass Kids. Loretta (11) and Wyatt (almost 15) make me laugh every day. They spend a few hours every weekend cleaning the house and doing their laundry, which makes me very happy. (This idea that kids are just supposed to have fun makes me crazy. I count on them!) They are cheerful leaders on their basketball teams, kindhearted toward everyone in their orbits, and make sure I'm staying awake to the world and to my own life.

King-Sized Mattress. We just got one. In my informal poll, apparently we are the last married couple to discover this secret. *&$%!

Binge-Reading. A year ago, I decided I wasn't going to try to cram reading in around everything else. I was going to privilege it the way I make time for my marriage, my kids, my friends, my work. The library and I are very close right now. And my world keeps expanding.

A Little of This, a Little of That. You've heard me say, no doubt, that I can be such an all-or-nothing person. My eyes have been opened to all binaries I create and how they bring unhappiness and imbalance to my life. Truth bombs: I can go to a Barre class without becoming a devotee! I can make friends slowly without plunging to emotional depths immediately! I can make a mistake at work without wondering if I'm in the wrong profession!

Not giving He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named so much Power over Me. There are homeless people to shelter, my own class and privilege to understand and reckon with. There is electricity to be thankful for and local businesses to support. There are people all around me who need love, touch, connection, real-ness. I've got work to do.

Whatever part of the world you're in, whatever you're up to this Sunday afternoon, I hope happiness sneaks up on you. xo

Mantras for 2018

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I guess I really did go into hibernation.

And, as Emily reminded me during our phone call the other morning, resting means that our energy will come back. And boy, it's back.

I find myself inspired all over the place lately. I'm inspired by Elizabeth Lesser's book Marrow. One of the best memoirs I've ever read. I'm inspired by the Making Oprah podcast and hearing how Oprah set about the hard work of evolving over her lifetime even though she could have grown comfortable with success. I'm inspired by all the clients who've sat in my office this month and cried when they talked about wanting to do the right thing or be better leaders. I'm inspired by my sister and her husband in Seattle who are risking a new venture together. I'm inspired by my 14 year-old son, playing his first season of high school basketball, and how he's happily spent every varsity game on the bench, joking around with the other freshman who knows he won't get put in. I am still riled up about all the inequity and oppression having its heyday in our country and world, but it feels like my calling right now is to take actions, however small, that serve the Good in the universe.

I sat down on New Years Day to write in my journal, thinking I'd just jot down a few things. Because I'd had two weeks of sleep, reading, and letting my heart lead the way, I filled the pages. It's amazing what happens when we get quiet enough to hear ourselves again. Amazing what grows in the fertile soil of solitude and under-stimulation.

I wrote the following "rules" for 2018 in just a couple minutes, and I've been sinking into them more and more every day. Here they are, in an annotated version. What is it your heart wants to say to you in this new year?

DON'T SNAP OUT OF THE MOMENT by making jokes or giving advice. I've started to notice a pattern in myself. When shit gets real, when I feel vulnerable or like someone's seeing me a little too clearly, I've gotten skilled at making a joke or saying something that sounds wise. I miss out on so much when I do that! So I'm trying to let myself really see and be seen, shut my mouth sometimes, and let it be awkward if it wants to.

HIBERNATE to stay alive. See above.

MAKE MY OWN NEWS instead of being addicted to the despairing headlines. I went through my phase of over-consumption, my voyeuristic panics. The reality is that I can't immediately do anything about notifications from the decrepit halls of the White House. So instead, I volunteer at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center. I'm helping raise money for a center that will serve homeless young adults. I'm trying to love my enemies.

BE AS AFFECTIONATE AS I WANT TO BE. Tone it down only if that's the more loving thing to do. I want to err on the side of connection. I have a habit of touching people when I talk to them, and I don't see that changing anytime soon unless it's clear I'm crossing a boundary. Life is TOO SHORT to withhold, too short to be skimpy on praise, to meter compliments, to cause anyone ever to wonder if I think they are a worthy human being.

GIVE TOTALLY AND FREELY no matter my history, future, or relationship with the recipient. I can be a pretty boundaried person, and some of those boundaries have served me well. But I don't need to have them up when they are not needed. I can trust myself to put them up if a situation or relationship calls for that. Otherwise? It's too much work to maintain them all the time. I don't need to be in intimate relationship with everyone in my life, but I certainly don't need to fear vulnerable moments that may or may not culminate in deeper connection in this life or the next.

DILIGENTLY MEET MY RESPONSIBILITIES so I can relax more and more often. It's not a big secret that most of us are more relaxed once we've taken care of business. Since I'm such an all-or-nothing person, I can tend to put off big things for fear that I won't do them perfectly. And that means my downtime isn't really downtime. I want that to change this year. I'm starting with some better systems for email and bookkeeping, and we will see where that leads.

WRITE SHITTY FIRST DRAFTS and get more comfortable with process. Brian Grazer, hit Hollywood Producer (Empire, Apollo 13) got his little movie Splash rejected OVER 1,000 times before it was made! My excuses for not writing or writing and not putting it out there seem pathetic. I'm not out to shame myself, but to care a little less about a grand reveal and work more on the process. Patience has never been my jam.

Happy 2018, folks. Permission granted to be present in our bodies, to open our hearts, to quiet our minds. And see what grows.

 

Advent 2017: Missives from Hibernation

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I've gotten a few nudges from some of you. "Are you going to post every day for Advent again this year?"

After much consideration, my answer is "No,"  though I'll post as the Spirit moves (which may be a lot). The word coming up for me this year is "hibernation." Taking a cue from winter's quiet, listening to what's inside of me, doing some service work, spending time with my growing-up-too fast kids, reading, putting off clients until January, sleeping in with my cute husband whenever possible.

From an Advent devotional called "All Creation Waits" by Gayle Boss, I read this today:

For us, as for our ancestors, the dark end of the year brings unrest. It is an end. It comes without our asking and makes plain how little of life’s course we control. This uncertainty, we don’t know how to mark. And so it marks us. We feel weighted, gloomy even, and we feel guilty because voices everywhere...sing out “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...December sadness is no reason for guilt. It is a sign of being wide awake in the world, awake enough to sense loss...there is a way to engage that sadness. That way is Advent.

How beautiful.

For the last several years, I've struggled with Seasonal Affective Disorder. In the Pacific Northwest, it's not only dark, but WET. The idea of hibernation is helping me go into this season intentionally, like the animals do, knowing that the darkness and silence can actually be my cue to be still, to wait, to conserve energy, feel whatever I feel.

I hope, in reading this, you give yourself the same permission if you need it. Permission to buy less. To eat less rich food. Permission to listen to music, read, take a fast from social media, say "no" to conversations or endeavors that keep you in life-sucking energy expenditures. And the "what for" isn't so we can just be happier human beings and feel less stress. It's all so we can really be in this world of ours, cherishing it and one another, not hiding from what's real. There are terrible things going down right this instant (especially if you're marginalized in any way) and the world needs our gifts. Our voices. Our outrage. So it follows that we really need to rest. I'll be here, too.

 

Thankgsiving and Sorrow

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Friends, as I write this I am perched in my living room letting my sister and Mom do all the work. I sprained my ankle this morning and spent all morning in the emergency room. I'm so relieved it wasn't a fracture (it sure FELT like one!), and I'm laughing that the universe is giving me a big fat lesson in RECEIVING today. Apparently Operation Hibernation is commencing with more vigor than I had anticipated.

There are countless things to be thankful for today and every day. But I've been teaching a class on White Privilege, too, and I'm also acutely aware this year of how this holiday came from subjugation. It usually doesn't happen to me very often that I feel only one thing. Despair comes with anger, happiness comes with wistfulness. Today, thanksgiving comes with sorrow, and I think there's wisdom in feeling it all. Emily and I are reading Miriam Greenspan's "Healing through the Dark Emotions," and Miriam would tell us there isn't a path to growth without going through fear, shame, and despair.

I woke up thinking about all that this morning, and here's a very unedited poem about waking to rain and reality. I'm thankful for all the Native Americans that have survived, and this poem is for them. I'm sorry.

Thanksgiving and Sorrow

Looks like the long Thanksgiving walk I imagined is doomed
unless we want to get soaked and track mud through the house
I spent all day cleaning.

For all our preparations--grocery store runs, baking pies,
setting tables and sending emails--
we are still at the mercy of this earth
and whatever deluge or gift it is hiding.

The first Thanksgiving wasn't a sweet, inclusive feast
with candlelit expressions of gratitude
or the peacemaking we love to imagine.

The Pilgrims gave thanks
after they'd massacred Indians,
raised bloody glasses to conquest, wealth, domination.

Lord, I am ashamed to come from them.

Help me make room at my table
for the storms and the rain, for the stories
I want to forget.

Help me make room for the outrage and heartbreak
that's mine to steward,
for the thanksgiving that will come
only when we've set a place for everyone,
when we've surveyed the damage
and called it our own,
when we know that saying prayers
will never be enough.

Amen.

I'm Ready for Hibernation

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At the gas station where you stop, are there video monitors on the pumps that tell you what to buy? And what to watch? Ads on the backs of your receipts, and now even in the middle of NPR programming?

Do you get notifications on your phone or watch that make everything feel frantic and urgent? Is your mailbox full of campaigns and products trying to get your attention? Is your own head full of voices and prompts that aren't your own, masking that soul of yours that's always there?

Me too. And the end of the year, my tolerance for all of it starts to wear thin. I feel the need for hibernation almost like a hunger, something I need to address before my blood sugar drops and I can't go on anymore. I wrote this poem yesterday in a moment like that, and some of it's on the chalkboard wall in my office, too. As Jane Kenyon says, "Let evening come." I'm ready.

I'm Leaving Now

Hibernation is a survival skill.
Let it get dark.
Let it get quiet.

Let yourself be missed,
misunderstood,
disappeared.

Whatever energy is left,
save it for yourself,
for a long, lumbering sleep

that lets you return to the world
lean, hungry,
and awake.

Sunday Morning Thank You

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Like many of you, I'm sure, I've just had a week. The house is cyclonic, there's no clean underwear in my drawer, and Loretta reminded me last night that I still haven't paid her piano teacher for the month. I facilitated seven back-to-back retreats and trainings since Monday and it's as if my "ON" switch is stuck, the motor about to burn out.

So waking up this Sunday morning to a quiet house without anything on the calendar feels too good to be true.

Our four-year-old neighbor was here yesterday afternoon. Loretta played dolls with her (she keeps them for that purpose) and all the accoutrements are spread out over the couch. (At least that means the dog won't sleep there.) On the kitchen table right now is a New Yorker, a baby present bought for a friend, stacks of mail, Yancey's computer, my computer, a shaker of red pepper flakes, a Bluetooth speaker, and some books for work. And some little plastic fingerboards that Wyatt was doing tricks with last night. On the kitchen counter is Loretta's bike helmet, a cooler we used for road-tripping to Wyatt's basketball tournament yesterday, Wyatt's computer, Loretta's book, and little flakes of kosher salt over everything.

And I woke up this morning happy about all of it. I stayed in bed reading Bill Hayes' book Insomniac City about moving to NYC after his partner died, about falling in love with Oliver Sacks (who had never been partnered at 75), about taking photos in NYC, watching the sunset from their rooftop. I got it from the library yesterday, started it at 10:00 last night, and finished it from 5-7. One of those kind of books. The kind I wanted to get up and tell you about. Divine. Perfection. The kind that breaks your heart and makes you love life all over again. And then I wrote this poem. Happy Sunday.

Sunday Morning Thank You

Finally, a free Sunday.
I wake up at five, eager to exploit
the commitment-free hours.
I plan to clean the fridge and make it look
more like my friend Lisa’s fridge,
little tubs of roasted squash and cut carrots
beautifully waiting for the week.

Then I will fold the laundry
that’s been piling up for two weeks,
dumping it out on my bed,
maybe listening to a little early Christmas music,
and probably reminding myself
that I need more socks.

My daughter and I have planned to go to church.
The men of the house are gone,
leaving us free to revel in the little rituals we both love,
probably slurping Vietnamese soup afterward
and debriefing Sunday school, where she is the oldest
(which she both loves and hates).

There will be coffee and later, wine,
maybe a walk with the dog when the rain lets up,
maybe a letter written to Emily
whose mailbox I love to fill.

But first—blessedly first!—are these two hours
under the covers with the old gooseneck lamp humming,
these two hours when I finish my book,
the one I got just yesterday
from the library, the one about finding love,
the one about grief and curiosity, the one
that makes me want to write this poem,
to notice every last thing about this day which,
inexplicably, I’ve been given.

Don't Blink

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Oh boy. I am overrun with nostalgia lately. There's nothing like your kid starting high school to 1) Make you feel old and 2) Make you teary all the *&#*ing time.

I have finally started to call myself a poet, accepting that I love brevity and that, for better or for worse, I'll always be trying to collect images and crystallize them in as few words as possible. It sure is helping these days, when I can hardly keep up with the world inside and outside my doors.

I've been riding my bike more lately, too, and I've found it's a recipe for more clarity, more connection to myself and what's happening around me. That's what happened this morning when I passed Whatcom Middle School and immediately looked for Wyatt on the playfield.

Wherever you are today and whatever you're doing, I hope you're happy and wistful and engaged and growing.

Don’t Blink

Riding past the middle school playfield,
clusters of kids in the morning sun,
I remember with a jolt
that you aren’t one of them anymore.
I thought I’d have those three years
to stretch my legs, take a breath,
get my parenting act together.
Teach you how to cook a few essentials,
maybe take you to Yellowstone or New York City,
figure you out more than I have.

High school started without much fanfare.
I’ve discovered I have to stay up late
for any chance of sliding
into that thin envelope of light and tenderness,
the one where you laugh at my jokes,
I fix you a sandwich,
and we’re not strangers anymore.

Song of a Reformer

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Song of a Reformer

I can't stop trying to be good.
It's my illness, though some days
it's in remission.

By the river, I take my shoes and socks off,
find a flat rock and patch of sun,
let the glacial water baptize me.

See how the river cuts its own path,
how the valley surrenders,
how the eddies and currents, unruly,
are as good and as beautiful
as anything I've ever seen.

Morning Wake Up

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Morning Wake Up

He's a hard sleeper just like his dad.
When I say his name, touch his arm,
he sleeptalks and says he's getting up.
I sit on the bed's edge for another minute,
straighten his twisted covers,
look at him with the kind of love
he'd squirm under if awake,
the kind of longing I had
that first morning,
the room spinning around me,
every cell in my trembling body
saying, Thank You. Thank You.

So Long, Emily

There's Hurricane Harvey and the West Wing travesty and a non-native salmon spill in Puget Sound. And famine in Africa.

But tonight, there's Emily flying to California for the year, and then who knows what after that. She's my person, as anyone who's read this blog even once probably knows. We are good at staying connected and it will take a hell of a lot more than this move to change that.

But still. Sad and it's all a little surreal. Nothing to do but write a poem. I love you, sister.

So Long

You'll get on the plane
and text me when you land.
I'll see you before Christmas
and fill your virtual and actual mailboxes.

But you won't be leaving notes
on my desk,
walking my dog,
sleeping in my house
like you are tonight,
your breath, body, footfall,
your "I am here"
always making me
into the wildest, loveliest
dream of myself.

Little Poems for Dark Days #13

Little Poems for Dark Days #13

End of the day, nothing written yet.
If I have anything to say,
it's thank you.
Thank you for my life,
thank you for this anger,
geyser of revolt rising up in me,
that part of me that won't sit down,
cloud of witnesses
who won't be silenced,
worker in the field,
first responder in his boat,
writer with her pen,
refugee in his tent,
loud Chorus of Love
on the bleakest, most sodden of plains,
singing though there's every reason
not to.

Little Poems for Dark Days #11

Little Poems for Dark Days #11

I'm tired of the bitter river!/Tired of the bars!
(Langston Hughes)

Whether it's because we built an ark
with blood money
or happened to be born
on top of a hill,
those of us on dry land
have always been smug,
directing others not to be angry
or to work harder
or to have more faith.
What's that you say?
This bitter river comes for us?

Little Poems for Dark Days #10

Little Poems for Dark Days #10

Today my free tote bag came in the mail.
The fridge is full of washed fruit and little yogurts.
I manage to clear my desk,
send a note to my aunt,
have an idea for a poem
or the urge to learn something--
tennis or Spanish or pickle-making.
Sparks in the dark, all of it,
sticks and tinder, hope against hope,
making fire in the cold.