March 11, 2013 § 17 Comments
Oh, I’ve missed it here and I’ve missed all of you. I wish I could give you a good reason why I haven’t been to this blog in a long time, but I don’t really have one, other than to say I’ve been digging. I turned 40 in January, and Scott and the boys built me a garden. Because I live in The South, we’ve already planted kale and mesclun, sweet peas and arugula. I’ve also tried my hand at flowers and on a cold and windy day last week, I ripped open a brown paper bag full of tulip bulbs. Supposedly they are late blooming, but my British neighbor shook her head at me and wagged her own trowel in the sharp breeze. “Nah,” she said, “You need a frost. They’re not going to grow.”
But still, Gus and I raked away the pine needle “mulch” base housing dumped all over our front garden beds last fall and we dug a few inches down, because that’s as far as you can go here before you hit sand. I had to pause and figure out which way to plant the bulbs because it wasn’t entirely clear which way was up. By the time I finished, my hands were cold and covered with dirt that seemed to be baked in, caked under my nails, streaked across my face, where I paused once to itch my nose.
I’ve been doing another sort of digging as well this winter, a much less interesting sort, so I won’t bore you with the details. I think maybe it had something to do with turning 40, with the realization that the days of waiting for my real life to begin were over. This is it, I thought, as I blew out the candles and then began to panic a bit. At 40, time isn’t as luxurious as it once was. Time now seems to be cracking a whip, stamping its foot, whispering in my ear in its dry, husky voice.
Or maybe it started with books: Katrina Kenison’s Magical Journey allowed me face my own looming compost pile and Danielle LaPorte’s Fire Starter Sessions dug its fingers into my shoulders and pushed me to the ground. I called my yoga teacher, Laura Plumb, and in our sessions, she has been encouraging me to sit quietly and then to push my fingers into the soil, even though I keep worrying about the worms and the bugs.
“Live into the questions,” she reminds me and still, I want only clear answers, a way to scrape the confusion away and wash it clean. But of course, there have only been more questions, which I think are probably the garden variety questions that stay-at-home mothers my age begin to ask. Questions mostly about what I can ask for, how much I am allowed to have, whether or not it’s OK to take something and claim it for my own. And there are other questions as well, the kind that come from living on a Marine base, surrounded by guards, an ocean, and a chain link fence. Questions about freedom and obligation, prerogative and service.
I’ve been asking questions that I’m not sure you can ask anymore in this age of competitive parenting. Questions about a purpose beyond making lunches and cleaning up spilled juice. Selfish questions about carving out time for myself, about an interior life, which has been limited since the birth of my oldest son. These are not questions about how to love my family less, but about how to love myself more.
In January I dug through shame, in February anger, and now, in March, I am stalking fear, with the help of Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine. I have been practicing handstand again and forearm balance in the middle of the room, where I feel both hopeful and hopeless, clumsily hamstrung between gravity and flight. I awkwardly hop from my forearms, I plant my hands down into the floor and sometimes hover before I realize that I may actually be doing it, which causes me to come tumbling down onto the wood floor, the bedrock, the facts of my life that stand as they are, immutable as granite.
There is the fact that I don’t yet work, that we will never afford childcare or someone to clean our house or private schools. There is the fact that we move every two years, that I get frustrated because my choices are limited, that I am scrubbing the toilets with a brush and my Ivy League education. There is the fact that an almost daily yoga practice has not made me into a better person, but rather, revealed the ways in which I am selfish.
I have been trying to blast away the earth to clear a space for my life. I have been desperately clawing at stone in an attempt to build a foundation. I have been using a dull knife to scrape out a sacred space in the bedrock, an alter in the midst of the duties and the obligations. I have been trying to erase what is there so I can start again.
But maybe I have been going about this all wrong. It might be that while I have been railing against the boundaries in my life, they have been the walls keeping everything in place. It could be that I have to start building here, on these uneven rocks. What I should probably be doing, is not trying to bludgeon the earth, but drawing a blueprint of a castle that will fit in the land I have purchased. Maybe I should be learning how to live in narrow hallways and odd-shaped rooms. It might be that the duties and the obligations are the tight things that will grow, that maybe the flower is not more holy than the crust of the Earth.
Oh, Pam. This is outrageously beautiful. And reminds me (of course) of something I wrote about a year or two ago, about how all those daily quotidian demands of my life both hem me in and keep me from flying apart into a million pieces. Maybe that’s a (less elegant, less articulate) way of saying what you’re saying here, about building where we are, within the walls we sense even if we can’t clearly see them. Every word you write inspires me, every word you write touches me. Thank you. xox
Just a thought: if you can truly see the ways in which you are selfish, you are already a better person.
I’m just about to turn 40 too, and so much of this resonates. Happy springtime gardening from the other side of the world!
I love the imagery you evoke here–the digging, the bedrock, the odd-shaped rooms.
And at least you’re doing something, be it digging or building, rather than wringing your hands in a fetal position.
ps: I think February is always an angry month. xoxo
i think ‘to love yourself more’ and feel that resonate in oneself and the larger world – be it military base or no- is probably quite the primary question in life… keep your hands dirty… !
I love your writing. That is all. It nourishes me. I have missed your voice while you have been digging.
In my heart we just exchanged a warm hug and then sat together over tea, talking about all of this and more, being silent with it for long stretches in between. I’m so moved by the digging you’ve been doing ever since I “met” you. So deeply nourished by it.
I’ve missed you! Sounds like you’ve been dealing with a lot lately. I too am working through Fear this month using Gabrielle Bernstein’s ‘May Cause Miracles’. Of course, it brings up all the aspects of my personality that I find hard to accept. But what I’m learning is that what rises to the top is rising to teach me the lessons I’m unwilling to learn, and also to show me how much more love is available than I’ve been willing to live with. Sounds like similar things are coming up for you. Thankfully, with your wisdom that always leaves me in awe, you never fail to comprehend the lesson that life is teaching.
Keep up the great work!
Oh, the earth, it never fails us! Beautiful and real, as always. Keep digging… (And when you tire of digging, sit down in the dirt and crane your face up toward the sun!).
We all dig in the dirt as kids, it seems only much later that we return to our original sensibility and vaguely grasp that this crust with all its dark mystery, insult and treasure is as much our Self as anything else… little children scratching at a vast Mother who holds us all with remarkable equanimity. Or something like that. I guess I’m just saying I hear you and like to know what you uncover and what pushes up on its own.
Let us walk barefoot sometime together, Pamela! Thank you for sharing and thank you for all your support. I’m glad to have known you on both sides of 40.
Oh I love your writing. And you.
From a decade down the road (plus a couple years), I’m still digging, my friend. And I’ve found that it’s the digging itself that is the gold.
Oh yes. yes. this is so beautiful and touches me deeply (as I am days away from 41). dig, build, plant, fall over – it’s all perfect in its unfathomable messiness. then tell us about it, please. because your words are food for the soul. xoxo
Bless you for finding the time to share this with us. As always, you’ve given me something beautiful and deep to ponder.
The time and energy I spend away from my kids (“away” either mentally or physically) is a gift to us both. I have known mothers who had NOTHING outside of being a mother and when their kids left, they fell apart and it poisoned their relationships with their kids because they felt owed something in a deep unspoken way.
We all deserve to be nourished, and we are the ones that must nourish ourselves.
This blog post says so much. The notion of boundaries as supports as well as things that confine, is one I’ve grappled with for years, especially when my son was young. Birthdays, of course, are reminders of the ultimate boundary. But, as your wonderful teachers seem to be saying, the soil you are in is rich beyond what you are ready to full acknowledge. Digging deep gets us there, sifting through what we’ve learned and turning all that past experience over with the new – that gets us to where we need to be, I think.
I love that you are digging in the dirt and feeling first hand the comfort and the revelations that the ground will yield to you. What I love about working in soil is that the plants never come out looking like I expect them to, and nothing like the photographs in the gardening magazines. And many have escaped (thanks to my composting efforts) and now I find volunteer tomatoes, nasturtiums — even chard running wild and coming to maturity in the most unexpected places. Physically composting and digging can keep us in rhythm with the internal work that is going on and that you, once again, describe so well.
“Maybe I should be learning how to live in narrow hallways and odd-shaped rooms.”
Oh, how beautiful this is.
Once I sat with a group of men, first in silence, and then complained of my life, all the missed chances, the things I did wrong. I said, “If only we could go back and do it right,” to which one man replied, “We’re doing it right now.”
You are already unbounded, eternal and whole. You just need to recognize your true Self.
[…] poking their green shoots through the dirt in my front garden, effectively giving the finger to my neighbor who said they wouldn’t grow. Yes! I said, doing a fist pump. […]