July 7, 2011 § 25 Comments
A few months ago I went to a book group at a yoga studio in Georgetown. The group was going to discuss Momma Zen, by Karen Maezen Miller. Finally, I thought, when I first saw the flyer. When I lived in Ventura and my son went to Oak Grove School in Ojai, we had parent meetings every month. The early childhood teachers were present and we discussed topics such as sibling rivalry, anger, creating partnership with children. It seemed a given that we were all good parents, all trying our best. I came away from the meetings feeling more knowledgeable, better equipped, and supported by other parents.
I was excited as I drove into Georgetown. I thought I might make some new friends or finally find a sense of community. But the book group was as much like my old parent meetings as DC is to Ojai. The yoga studio owners and book group leaders were kind and genuine. I think they wanted the same things I did. They asked questions about our challenges as mothers and about the areas we wanted to improve. It was the answers that did me in. The grim, pinched faces. The tired voices expressing how hard it is to be patient, to stop saying “just a minute,” to go on a quarter mile walk that takes an hour. I just felt sad as I sat there and very, very homesick for Ventura. The unkind part of myself felt virtuous (so good!) when I saw that I have changed a bit since I my early days as a mom, but another part of me felt equally hopeless. As much as these women depressed me with with their unhappiness, I knew exactly what they were talking about. Before I had children, I ran at 100 miles a minute. Slowing down back then, seemed to be a huge waste of time.
Children make you slow down, no doubt about that. They demand your presence in every single moment. At my son’s school, I learned that if you relax into it, if you let yourself fall into the present moment, it can feel like flying. It feels like joy and happiness and safety. It feels like love.
But it’s still a bit unnatural for me. It’s something I have to work at every day, and as I sat in that book group, I wondered why slowing down seems to be such a challenge for many mothers in my generation. Maybe it’s the technology we all adapted to in our twenties: the email, the phones, the web. Or maybe it’s that motherhood is what we were told to avoid. Go to a good school. Get a good job. Make good money. To some mothers, parenthood is the thing that robbed them of their success and freedom. To others, motherhood became another job, the ultimate career. Many days I hear Jackie Onassis’s words in my head: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.” Be a good mother. Or else.
I loved Claire Dederer’s memoir Poser because she explores our relentless pursuit of good in motherhood and shows how it robs us of the real. The fun. She writes about her own “goodness project,” her constant quest for the admiration that would confirm her virtue, and she brings forth an idea that her perfectionism has to do with growing up in the late sixties, during the time in which many women – who were wives and mothers – were leaving their homes. They were joining communes, going back to work, or moving in with hippie boyfriends.
I was born almost a decade later than Dederer in 1973. I grew up with Title IX, the ERA, and Billie Jean King. Geraldine Ferraro and Mary Lou Retton. Those Virginia Slims ads. My mom’s friend lived in Manhattan and wrote for Working Women Magazine. I still remember the covers. Those women with their feathered hair and their briefcases. You’ve come a long way baby.
I remember the books I loved growing up, the trail of breadcrumbs that might have led to such a thirst for achievement. There was Herstory and another one called Anything Boys Can Do Girls Can Do Better. You can guess what that one was about. I was inspired by that book and maybe a little bit scared. It was clear that as a girl, I was going to have to work my ass off.
If Dederer drove herself to be good in order to make up for her own wayward mother, I wonder if my generation is so strident about motherhood, so relentless in our quest for virtue because we know no other way. We have always had to be better than the men in order to be considered as good as. Quite probably, I could relate most of my failings to growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I could blame Reagan and Madonna and Gloria Steinem. Wasn’t it also Jackie O who said, “There are two kinds of women: those who want power in the world and those who want power in bed.” Yowza.
But there is something in blaming our youth that doesn’t ring true to me, just as I didn’t buy Dederer’s assertion that Seattle hipsters treat attachment parenting as a religion because their parents got divorced. There just has to be something else that drives us to mash steamed carrots for our toddlers and sign up for Mommy and Me Yoga. (Um, yeah, I am talking about myself here.)
Motherhood, too often, feels like a competition. Another endurance event with the prize being your child’s perfect behavior. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m so competitive it drives me crazy most of the time. The other morning I went out for a run – a slow jog, I told myself – and before I knew it, I had caught up to a girl whose ponytail had been bouncing in front of me for a mile or so. “Hey crazy lady,” I asked myself as I charged up the next hill, now committed to my new pace, “What are you doing?”
Sometimes I wonder if we are so relentlessly strident in our quest to be good because we are so afraid of what will happen if we stop trying to hard. We’ll get fat. We’ll get fired. We’ll mess up our kids’ chances to go to Harvard.
Last week, Bruce at Privilege of Parenting wrote a fabulous counterpoint to Lori Gottlieb’s Atlantic article, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.” I’ve gone back to that post a few times because there was so much wisdom there. I found tremendous comfort in this paragraph:
Thus as parents let’s not beat ourselves up, nor give up, let’s admit that we’re not perfect and neither are our kids; let’s let go the notion that our kids (or we) will be happy when they get to Harvard or become doctors (but instead bank on the idea that if they find their place in the group and contribute, even at Taco Bell, this may be better for them and for our world than the nightmare we’ve been propagating).
On the 4th of July, a new friend from my yoga teacher training took me to my first hot yoga, or power yoga, class. “Is it Bikram?” I asked, apprehensively. I went to Bikram once, years ago, and couldn’t get out of bed for the rest of the day. I was not going back to Bikram again. She shook her head. “No, it’s not that hot. You’ll be fine.”
So off I went. For the first hour I was fine, despite the heat. I was sweating like mad and it really stunk in the room, but I was okay. Until I wasn’t. Until the room started to spin and my heart began pounding in a way that did not feel right. I had chills up and down my neck and was hugely grateful I hadn’t eaten breakfast. The instructor told us it was time to move into handstand. “Challenge yourself,” she shouted and I told myself to buck up and ignore the pounding in my body. But it was the Fourth of July. There were fireworks to go to. We had people coming for dinner. I couldn’t spend the day in bed.
I decided to lie down right there, in the middle of the room. The thermostat near me read 96 degrees so I closed my eyes and listened to the 66 other people in the class jumping up and standing on their palms. I felt like an idiot lying there. Water was dripping on my head from the ceiling and I realized that it was the condensed sweat of all the other people in the room who were working so hard to be good.
Last summer, as our family moved from California to DC, I told the boys and Scott that 2010 was going to be The Funnest Summer Evuh!!! I needed something to spur me on and ignite my sense of adventure when I felt such sadness. I haven’t quite settled on a theme for this summer yet. I thought it might be The Most Peaceful Summer Ever as the boys have been bickering a bit. But lying there in that crowded yoga studio, I thought that maybe this was going to be the Summer I Let Myself Off the Hook. I am going to let myself off the hook for my bad days. For the lovely mornings I sometimes interrupt by saying, “Hurry up, put your shoes on. We have to get to the park!” The days I focus more on the crayons under the couch, the Legos strewn on the floor, the spilled milk, the incessant shouts of little boys than I do on the fun parts. The evenings I spend beating myself up for not signing the boys up for swim lessons or Yoga 4 Kids or music camp. For giving in and buying the assorted pack of sugar cereals that I normally don’t allow into the house. The nights I spend beating up other mothers in my head for making me feel badly about what I am beating myself up about. Better than. Worse than. It seems like a two-way street, but really, it’s a dark alley that leads to a crack house.
Freedom. I always thought it meant something you fought for. Something earned. But maybe it’s also the act of gently emancipating yourself. Maybe it’s as simple as dropping the chains we are twisting around our own necks. Last year, I thought that walking on my hands – embracing uncertainty – was the full expression of freedom. But this Fourth of July, it seemed that lying on my back was more authentic. This Independence Day, for me, seemed to be about allowing other people’s sweat to drip on my face and not needing to add to the heat. Because we are all working so very hard. And maybe we already are good enough.
June 29, 2011 § 14 Comments
Gus had a milestone this week. Or maybe we both did. In a matter of days, he became officially weaned. Officially no longer a baby. Okay, I can guess what you are thinking right now. But before you hit “delete,” this is not a post about the virtues of nursing your child. I have never found those diatribes to be particularly helpful.
I don’t think this is a post about mourning the loss of babyhood either. I am sure I will change my mind in a few years, but the boys seem to be growing at a good pace right now. I think if they grew up any more slowly, I might collapse under the weight of diapers. Or from exhaustion. Life is so much easier now than even a year ago, and it gets more interesting and fun each day.
I think I might be writing about how awestruck I am by how gracefully my two and a half year old was able to let go of something he loved. Something that made him feel safe. For the last few days I have been thinking about the death grip I have on my own creature comforts. I have been noticing that I even hold onto things that I no longer need. The list is long but it includes worry, fear, anxiety, and doubt.
The very process of helping my son let go of his babyhood seemed to bring all of my own fears to the surface. First, there was the fact that I had to decide this, that I had to be in charge. I waited a while for the real grown-up to appear. I scoured many parenting books and called friends and even a lactation consultant back in California. Still, Mary Poppins failed to materialize at my door. Instead, I went to the dentist, who told me that the impacted wisdom tooth, which has been bothering me for years, really needs to come out now. He wants to implant some artificial powdered bone in my jaw, and the whole procedure requires a slew of sedatives and painkillers that kids don’t need in their bodies.
I came home and realized it was time to say No to my son. And saying No is something I hate doing. To anyone. Recently, I mustered up all my courage and told my son’s school that I could not work on the newsletter during the next school year because I have no free time, and what happened next? I am suddenly in charge of the school’s silent auction. I say suddenly as if these things just happen to me. As if I have no agency here, in the matter of my own life.
On the first day I told Gus “No,” he cried for about five seconds while my gut twisted in agony.
“Gus, do you want to get some books?” I asked holding him tightly.
He wailed and pushed me away.
“Let’s get your blanket,”I suggested, trying again. The lactation consultant told me to remind Gus of all the ways he can get comfort from me and of all the ways he can comfort himself.
More wailing. And then, he was quiet. Solemnly, he blinked the tears from his eyes. “I want to play cards,” he said and slid from my bed. I watched him run off like the world’s smallest gambler and waited for what would happen next. A few seconds later, Gus returned, holding his pack of Curious George Animal Rummy playing cards. I helped him back up on the bed and watched him deal. Literally.
There are still so many things I don’t want to deal with. There are so many aspects of myself I don’t want to know about. And yet, it’s funny, how when you shine a little light into those places, it’s never quite as bad as you think. This morning I emailed the school’s Silent Auction Committee and told them I couldn’t do it. I still feel awful about it. Irresponsible. Unreliable. Careless. But under that, I am also relieved. I think of how cranky I would be after staying up night after night, putting together an auction book, worrying about whether or not other people were doing their jobs. I think of how mad I would get a the boys for making noise while I was on the phone, trying to get a merchant to donate a free bike tuneup, or dinner for four. I think about how impossible it would be to get anyone to donate anything with my boys running around their store.
On the morning of Gus’s milestone, I decided to have a party, inspired by Kristin Noelle’s recent post. For once in my life, I was going to run towards something and not away. As Gus dealt the cards for animal rummy on the bed, I told him about it. “Can I have bawoons mommy?” he asked as he lined up his cards on the sheets. There was George, the Man with the Yellow Hat, Hundley the Dog.
“Sure,” I said.
His eyes got wide. “And cupcakes?” he asked and I nodded. “Why not.”
That evening, the boys came out to dinner wearing the party hats I had put in the back of the closet after Gus’ birthday in January. “We’re ready for the party,” they told me. I explained that we still had to go to the cupcake store, that we had to pick out the balloons, that we still had to eat real food. “We don’t need dinner,” Oliver said. “Let’s go right now.”
“Um, no,” I said, for the second time that day. It didn’t really feel any easier to say no this time. Maybe it will always be hard. “You have to eat your vegetables first,” I instructed. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said that line.
After they ate some carrots and cucumbers, the boys climbed into the car and we stopped at Cake Love in Shirlington. “Is it your birthday?” asked the kid behind the counter after Gus and Oliver picked out their cupcakes. They were still wearing their yellow and blue paper hats. I cringed, thinking Oliver was going to tell him the real reason for our fete, but instead, Oliver just shook his head. “We’re just having a little party, that’s all.”
Next door, at Harris Teeter, Gus picked out a balloon that said “Congrats” and Oliver picked out one that said “Good Luck.” Oliver’s balloon immediately floated away once we left the store and he was left holding only the string. “That was not good luck!” he said, kicking the sidewalk so I let him get another one. It said “Get Well Soon.”
The party consisted of the boys mowing their way through their cupcakes, frosting first and then chasing each other around the living room with their balloons. For once I didn’t tell them to stop, that someone was going to get hurt, that it was almost time for bed and that they needed to slow down. I thought of my brave little guy who decided it was okay to give something up. That instead of making a huge deal about it, he was going to play the hand he was dealt and have a party.
In my yoga teacher training this weekend, a girl from the training in Boston joined us to make up some hours she had missed. After her time was up, Rolf stopped all of us and announced that Elana had officially completed her training. She thanked us and Rolf and told us what a transformative experience it had been for her. Then she rolled her eyes. “I know everyone says that,” she said. “But it’s true. It’s really made me think about what I want in this life and about what’s good enough. In some respects, the way I’ve been living has been good enough, but in other ways, it’s not and now I can make some changes.”
After chasing each other around the dining room, Oliver decided to tie their balloons to their big Bruder trucks and run around with those. They made a loop through the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen, their balloons trailing over them with their bright messages.
Congrats. Get Well Soon. Good Luck.
April 30, 2011 § 6 Comments
It’s no secret that the yoga teacher training I am doing has been challenging for me. “You’ll really do The Work,” people said when I told them I was starting a yoga teacher training this spring. “It’ll bring up Your Stuff,” someone else said. I narrowed my eyes at these comments and asked for specifics. “Can you give me an example?” I asked. “What do you mean, exactly, by ‘The Work?‘” But the only reply I received was a smile and a shrug. “Have fun,” they said.
Fine, I thought. Great. Bring it on. I would do The Work, whatever that was. I could handle My Stuff, right?
I thought I could. But these days, I just stare at a tiny digital recorder and want to hide under the bed. Our current “homework” for our teacher training is to read a script for a 90-minute yoga class (a wonderful class, by the way) and then listen to the recording and take our own yoga class. Personally, I would rather get my teeth pulled without novocaine.
I thought The Work and My Stuff might be interesting. I thought it would at least be clear. I thought it would come to me all of a piece. I thought it would be the Holy Grail, the directions for How to Get Fixed. Instead, listening to myself on tape for 90 minutes just makes me feel really lousy in a nondescript sort of way. And the “nondescript” is far worse than the “lousy.” So I hate listening to myself on tape. Who doesn’t?
Yet, I was having such a hard time with it that I fell into a hole for a week. I didn’t go to yoga. I stopped meditating. I almost wrote to the assistant for the teacher training and asked for help, but after thinking about it, I wasn’t sure that someone who barely knew me could do much. I had a feeling that this was something I needed to figure out for myself.
Later that weekend, I went for a run in the rain and tried to figure out why listening to myself on a tape recorder terrifies me so much, why it makes me feel like a total loser. I sound weak as I read the script. Uncertain. I mess it up. I talk too quickly. I make mistakes.
Could that be it? That I make mistakes? Could it be that listening to my own voice unearths a giant snarl of imperfection that I have been trying to keep covered up for years? Is it possible that I so hate the idea of failure that I have deluded myself into believing that somewhere out there is the possibility of perfection, bright and shiny as a mala bead? Could it be that I am just disappointed with myself?
As I ran, I thought of all the failures in my life, all the missteps, the embarrassments, the glaring errors. There was that really dumb thing I said to that cute guy on the cross country team in college, that my friends heard and laughed about for months. There was the vet school application to Penn that I somehow “forgot” to send in. Even worse, there were the thousands of unkind things I have said and done. Which I still do, daily. There was the awful job I stayed in for far too long. There was the job I didn’t get because I didn’t prepare for the interview. There was that unplanned pregnancy.
When I got to that last one, I paused. At the time, when I found out I was pregnant, it was awful. I was devastated. It felt like my life was ending. But now? Now, I know that it was the best thing I ever did. When I think of Oliver, I can’t imagine a time before him, a time when he was not yet. He is my failure transformed into beauty. He was my sacred mistake.
What if, I wondered, I thought of my mistakes the same way I thought about my successes? What would happen if I treated all of my mistakes with reverence, with gratitude? What would happen if instead of treating my mistakes as shameful, I treated them each as sacred?
I am not talking about celebrating mistakes – I am far too cynical for that. But even the universe depends on mistakes. Errors are not just a design flaw, they are an inherent part of the design. Without errors in DNA replication, there would be no variation in life. We would all still be single-celled protozoa. Mistakes in DNA are the only source of evolution. They are responsible for violets and giraffes and blond hair. The part I have trouble with is that they are also responsible for cancer and Down Syndrome and MRSA.
I went to a talk by Karen Maezen Miller today, which was pretty great. She talked at one point about the limits that exist only in our mind and how everyday, our children push us past our limits. “Children are the face of God,” she said. She tapped her hand on the floor. “This floor is the face of God. That accident in the parking lot is the face of God. Everything as it is, is the face of God.”
Last week, I took the boys to my parents house for two days. It’s a 4 hour car trip (5 with a stop) and it was just the three of us heading up through the mountains of Pennsylvania. I don’t like the trip very much to say the least. It makes me nervous to know that juice boxes and oranges will probably be demanded as soon as I hit construction or a windy pass in the Poconos. I was so flustered this time that I missed the entrance to the 395 and had to backtrack and turn around in a parking lot.
I stopped the car for a second and took a breath because I was so annoyed at myself for making the trip longer than it already was. And then – Sacred. The word popped into my head and something in my ribcage softened a bit. My shoulders moved away from my ears and tears came to my eyes. My heart peeled open and I came back to myself. A quote popped into my head, something Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Maybe mistakes are like that too. The oak trees and the cancer. The wrong turns and the right ones. The kind thoughts and the angry words. The unplanned pregnancy and the little boy who now brings me wildflowers.
April 12, 2011 § 11 Comments
On the second day of my yoga teacher training last week, Rolf Gates asked, “How many of you had this fantasy that we would be doing a lot of yoga in here and maybe listen to me talk for a while?” I was taking notes when he said this and my head snapped up. Fantasy? What? What did he mean, fantasy? Wasn’t that how it was going to be for real? What was going on here?
Some of my friends have taken yoga teacher trainings. “It’s hard,” they say. “It’s pretty intense.” I thought they meant physically. I thought they meant they sweated a lot. I used to nod my head sympathetically at them, but inside, I couldn’t wait. Eight hours of yoga class? Excellent.
However, our first assignment is not to assist at a local studio or practice yoga for 3 hours a day. Instead we have been asked to read a script for a 90-minute yoga class out loud and tape ourselves on a voice recorder. Then we take our own class. And we should probably do this at least weekly until our next weekend training, which is about 5 weeks away. There was a collective wince that went through the room after we received these instructions. Ouch. Listen to our own voices? Do we have to?
The first time I read the script was a week ago. I had a babysitter but was so self-conscious that she or the kids might hear me practicing, that I drove to the library and read it out loud while sitting in my car. Unfortunately, the batteries in the voice recorder were kind of dead and when I went to take my own class, there was no sound except for a sentence that went something like, “Let’s move into tree pose. Place your right foot on the inside of your left thigh.” I cringed as I heard my own voice. Yikes. It was even worse than I thought.
On Friday night, I went down to the basement playroom with fresh batteries in the recorder and read the script out loud again. I thought I did fine. I didn’t need to listen to it though. I already knew what I needed to work on. This was silly. I wasn’t going to learn anything. So I put off taking my own class until last night. Finally, at 9:15 pm, I went downstairs in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt and stared down at the palm-sized digital recorder. OK, I thought. Fine. You win. My mat and block and strap and yoga pants were two stories above me in my bedroom, but I let them go. I knew if I went to get them I would never return. Instead, I sat down on the floor and pushed Play.
“Hello Everybody,” my voice said. Jesus Christ, I thought. This is horrible. (To get an idea of how much fun this was, call up your voice mail, and listen to your recorded message for the next hour and a half.) I sighed. I pushed back into downward facing dog because the voice on the recorder told me to. Suddenly, I was face to face with my knees, which is new, since I am usually in a pair of yoga pants. Holy crap! When did those wrinkles get there? Seriously?
Three minutes later I wanted to quit for good.It was like a bad meditation session, one that you wanted to end after 30 seconds, and if you managed to sit for 3 minutes, it was a victory. I looked at the voice recorder. I had an hour and 17 minutes left. Let me first start by saying that the script we have to read is in itself, a beautiful yoga class, even when it’s butchered by amateurs. Every muscle of your body gets attention and you finish feeling great, whether you have been doing yoga for one month or for 10 years. I know that it is a gift just to have it in my possession. To be able to take a class like that whenever I want to.
But last night, I did not feel great. My hands were slipping on the carpet. My voice was insanely annoying. I had gone out on a limb during the reading and decided to try to describe how to physically get into a pose, but when I followed my own instructions on the tape I fell over. I dreaded all the time in downward dog because it meant I just had to listen to myself. Stare at those knees. I didn’t want to breathe for 4 more breaths. I wanted arm balances and jump throughs. I wanted headstands and more chatarangas. Physical pain has always been my way out of emotional pain. When I used to run, I was never the most talented person on the starting line. I had hips that didn’t sit in their sockets correctly. My stride was too long. I had no finishing kick. But I subscribed to the Steve Prefontaine theory of competing: Anyone who was going to beat me would have to endure more pain than me. And I could endure a lot. I craved the pain. I knew it wouldn’t lead to salvation, but I thought that maybe someday, I might be redeemed.
I looked back at the voice recorder. 35 minutes to go. There was no redemption here. I felt myself bolting again. I needed some advice. I needed to talk to someone about this teacher training business. Why were they all lit up about this anyway? Why did everyone tell me how goddamned beautiful it all was. As soon as I was finished I was going to email Katrina and find out how she got through hers. She would give me some advice.
Then I remembered what she wrote on her blog, about her friend’s advice to her about her own teacher training which was, “It’s all about the love.” “Remember,” she wrote to me, “it’s all about the love.” I was in downward dog as I thought this and I looked back at my elephant knees. Was this what she meant? I felt the area under my sternum melt a little bit. I thought about how Pema Chodron says that meditation is about making friends with ourselves. I thought about how Sharon Salzberg says that the most beautiful part of meditation is when we notice we aren’t focusing on our breath and so we come back. We return home.
“Raise your right leg, er left leg,” I say on the voice recorder. I shake my head. I definitely don’t love that I suck at this. I am not digging those knees or the way the reflection on the glass door shows my ribcage popping out. How does one actually go about making friends with oneself? How does one actually begin to love oneself?
After my “class,” I climbed into bed and read Karen Maezen Miller’s blog. As always, she reminded me to sit up straight and to get over myself. She wrote:
“We all have about three minutes when we’re just fascinated by our own emergence. Then our real face shows up, and it’s not so new after all. We stop finding ourselves remarkable, and then we can begin to do good for others.”
Do good for others. Isn’t that what we all want? Aren’t we all appalled by our own voice? Don’t we all feel like this? While I can never recall ever thinking that anyone’s voice was ever repulsive, don’t we all cringe when we hear ourselves on tape? Why does the sound of our own voice unnerve us so much? Why is it that it’s so difficult to like ourselves, to stop feeling ashamed about that time we lobbed a baseball at someone’s head when we were eight?
I have absolutely no idea. But I have an inkling that I need to at least figure out how to make friends with myself or I am never going to survive the next 5 weeks. Because this is where I usually get off. This is where I usually think: “This is NOT what I signed up for. Forget it. I changed my mind. Sayonara suckers.” And I can’t do that now because .. well. I don’t know. I just really, really like yoga. And I really, really like this teacher training.
When I was growing up, my heroes were Joanie Benoit and Mary Decker. Zola Budd and Grete Waitz. I remember an interview with Joan Benoit back in the 80’s. The reporter asked what her strategy was for the marathon she had just finished. Joan was still breathing hard from her race and she shook her head and laughed. “I just told myself to find my place in the pack, find my pace, and get comfortable there.”
Get comfortable. Maybe that was all I had to do for right now. And I could do that, right? Get a little more used to the wrinkly knees, the uncertain voice, my lack of experience, my fear. Get comfortable. Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.
I have a big metaphorical box where I lock up what I am not comfortable with: that I am a bad listener, that I talk really fast, that I don’t really like other people’s children. The wrinkles go into that box and the number on the scale. The terrible things I said 10 years ago and 10 weeks ago go in there too. I somehow think that if I keep everything locked up, when my parallel universe finally gets here – you know, the one where you are tan and perfect and always nice – I can just chuck that box into the ocean. But that parallel universe is never going to get here, is it? Maybe it’s time to unlock the box.
The only way I know to get comfortable is to name things. In a race, I used to name what I saw and felt on the course. There’s that big oak right by the one-mile mark. There’s that burning in my lungs. There’s that girl, coming up behind me. Relax your jaw, I used to think. Relax your tongue. It will be over in a few minutes.
Now, I am naming what is in the box. There’s that really mean thing I said to my mother last year. There’s the way I am judging that woman who talks a mile a minute. There’s the way I talk a mile a minute. Breathe, I think now. Just get comfortable. We’re going to be here for a very long time.
April 2, 2011 § 11 Comments
I started my yoga teacher training this evening with Rolf Gates. I should be asleep now, resting up for a long day tomorrow. But I can’t. I am too wired but what happened and by what might happen. I am too excited by what is happening right now. “There are moments,” Rolf said, after we set our intentions for the training, “When you will watch your whole life change.” He rang the bell. “This is one of those moments.”
Going into the training I was nervous and excited. I expected to be the oldest person there. I expected 20-somethings in ponytails. I expected that everyone would be more prepared, more flexible, kinder, already living the yamas and niyamas at every single second. What I got was a room full of people. Some older than me and some younger. Some fatter and some thinner. All of us, trying to be more ourselves. All of us, trying so hard to come home.
Rolf had us answer two questions. The first was Who do you want to be? The second was, What do you want the experience to be like? I thought I knew the answers. I thought I wanted to be helpful and kind and more plugged-in to the divine spirit that is so tangible in my yoga class. I thought I was going to the training so that my life would be more like my yoga practice. So that my life could be my yoga practice.
“You have to write for five minutes,” Rolf told us. “No stopping. What happens when you stop is that you miss the most important thing. Yoga is about being honest with ourselves. Satya.”
I didn’t need to write for five minutes. I already knew what I wanted to be. But still, because I never want to Do It Wrong, I followed the directions. I wrote for five minutes. But what I wrote wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. I thought I was going to write about grace and divinity and peace, but what my hand scribbled down was: I want to be powerful.
“What?” I thought. “I do not want that.”
Yes you do, a small voice said.
“Well I don’t want to want that. It’s too big. It’s too loaded. And no one will like me if I’m powerful. I like being small. I’m five foot two. I’ve been small all my life. Crap. Crap, crap, crap.”
It’s so easy to be small. It requires no effort at all to disappear into the crowd. And yet, the people I am drawn to are the ones who radiate, who inspire, and who take up space. The blogs I love are those that are most honest, that own experience, and that take a step forward, that say this is who I am. This is my experience in the world. This is what I want.
Power to me is about being the first one to raise a hand, the first one to say hello. Power is about smiling when everyone else is complaining that it’s too cold or too dark. Power is about eating vegetables and getting enough sleep and saying No with a heart full of love because it’s not right and saying Yes because it is right. Power is about being oneself and only oneself and figuring out what that means. And power is about helping, because when you are powerful, you aren’t afraid of losing your power when you teach others how to find theirs.
After we wrote for five minutes, we had to turn to the person next to us – a total stranger! – and talk for five minutes about our intentions while our partner sat in total silence and listened. It was the longest five minutes in my life. It’s amazing how real you can get without small talk. It’s amazing what you can learn from someone when you can sit in silence.
Finally, at the end of the night, all 65 of us did a metta – or loving kindness – meditation and then each of us said our intention out loud to the group. “My name is Pamela,” I said when the microphone came to me. “I live in Alexandria. My intention is to learn to live powerfully so that others can be powerful.”
As soon as the words were out, my heart leapt out of my chest, like in the cartoons. I could almost see it, outside my ribs, pounding. “I said that too loudly,” I thought. “People will think I am some aggressive crazy person. They will think I am on some ego trip. They will think that I am too full of myself. No one here knows I am a really just a Good Catholic Girl at heart.” Apparently, People Will Think is another personal mantra up there with Doing It Wrong.
But the words were already out. The bell already rang. I said what I said, and now, I am just going to wait to find out what happens.
March 22, 2011 § 6 Comments
This evening, while taking a walk through this gorgeous spring night, I re-listened to Seane Corne’s podcast: Yoga – Meditation in Action. It’s incredibly beautiful and perhaps the best explanation of yoga I have heard. I was especially struck this time around by this:
“To really understand love, to understand what they call the Light, you have to understand the opposite. You have to understand and embrace the Shadow, or what love is not. The Shadow is also considered the Dark. The darkness within us. And that’s the beautiful part, because if it’s in me, it’s also in you. And if I can understand it in me, then I can also understand and recognize it within you without judging it. I will only judge your Shadow if I am judging my own.”
There are so many aspects of myself – of my own Dark Shadow – I want to understand and transform. Many times I feel selfish spending so much energy towards this when it’s so petty and small, but Rolf Gates says, “What you heal in yourself, you heal in the world. And what you heal in the world, you heal in yourself.” So I hold fast to the belief that if I can transform my own darkness into light, then I can help to transform those dark qualities in the world as well.
Words I am drawn to lately include: healing, clean, light, love, surrender, gentle. For a while now, I have been actively intending these qualities and seeking them, but they haven’t really been showing up in my life except for love, which I have in spades from my family and friends. I have been frustrated by the fact that I keep doing the same things I always do, saying the same things I always say, thinking the same thoughts I always think. I have been making baby steps at changing my diet, but not really. I have been toying with joining a running group but I haven’t yet. I have only now, in the last month – after a decade of trying – been making meditation a daily practice. I want my life to mirror my yoga practice but I don’t stay plugged in to that divine hook-up past noon. I forget. I stay solidly human instead of remembering that we are all made of light, that we are really spiritual beings having a human experience instead of the other way around.
Last week, I told Alana at Life After Benjamin that I was doing a 21-Day Challenge and was going to give up wine, chocolate, and dairy products and see what happened (I picked these because these are things I am “attached” to). It’s 6 days in, and it would be an understatement to say that it has been perfect. But I don’t think that is the point. The point I think is to notice what a change in habits brings up in me: Anxiety. Fear. Craving. Aversion. What I learned by doing, is that true freedom requires letting go and letting go is scary. Intense feelings come up but intense feelings are only sensations. And sensations pass. Change is uncomfortable, but by holding our discomfort and breathing through it, the burning pain becomes a cleansing fire. I learned that I will inevitably fall but that I can always begin again.
This small act (which let me be very clear here is not being executed perfectly or even very well) gave me a bit of courage to look into more intense feelings, such as my own Dark Shadow. Bruce, at Privilege of Parenting gave me some guidance lately to look into my own Shadow. He suggested that my fear of raccoons on my morning runs might actually be able to tell me something about my deepest self if I approached it with a sense of curiosity. He told me this a few weeks ago, but I have been too afraid to look very closely until now. The Shadow concept is so obtuse for my linear, analytical mind.
Last night while meditating, I imagined the raccoons and their terrible arched backs, their dirty fur, their sharp, yellow teeth, those beady eyes. Bam. There were those feelings of terror and aversion and extreme distaste. I tried to breathe and not think, to imagine “raccoon” without thinking “raccoon.”
What came into my head was the word Protection. Instantly, I thought of Lindsey’s reference to one of my favorite U2 song’s “Kite” in her post. “You need some protection, the thinner the skin.” Then I thought: Protection? What needs protection? The raccoon? My dark side? Myself? And I reminded myself that I was meditating for crissakes, and I wasn’t supposed to think.
Today, the word Protection has been in my thoughts. I have often been told I am too sensitive. I feel many times as if my skin is on inside out. I am very anxious, I always want to do what I am supposed to do, I am deathly afraid of Doing It Wrong. Many times, I am a doormat, throwing my own needs aside for someone else only because I believe that if I don’t, they won’t like me, that I will be filled with regret and guilt and sadness. And then of course, I suffer, my family suffers, and most people that come into my path suffer when I am in this space. I have no boundaries. Actually, I have no Protection.
Yesterday, on Facebook, my yoga teacher, Jessica – the one who said that if you are going to walk through this world with an open heart, you better have a strong core – posted this:
“I am ready to really “Spring” forth along my path and without apologies or hesitation open up the the full realm of womanhood. There’s a certain fierceness with me right now that has been unfamiliar but I’ve prayed for it to come and balance out the softness of the mother and to support the young one within. Here we go….”
Fierceness. Ah. That word lit a fire within me. Yes. Tonight, listening to Seane Corn’s podcast she said that yoga was “anything but fluff. It’s a fierce journey.”
I keep trying to analyze my shadowy raccoon teacher. I try to understand it, but shadows defy logic. If you turn to look at them, they move, they shift shape and mock our attempts. But somehow, out of my own darkness, I have retrieved two words: Protection and Fierce. All along I have been trying to cultivate Gentle and Good and Light, but these qualities cannot survive without protection or ferocity.
Tonight as I was walking, I stopped to touch the buds on the trees. For a month now, I have been watching them through a snowstorm, sleet, rain, grey skies, and cold temperatures. They stayed closed, refusing to yield, safe under their tough shell. Only now, when it is safe, have they come out, gentle and soft. I think of the raccoon who stood on her hind legs in front of me a month ago in the snow, who refused to let me pass, while I stood, my heart pounding and breath steaming in the cold air. “Maybe she was protecting her babies,” my husband said at the time.
I am grateful to Bruce for his gentle guidance and wisdom and to all those who have stopped by here. Each comment is full of grace and wisdom. I am so grateful to this glorious spring. After a decade in California I forget what a reprieve it is, what a gorgeous rebirth it is, what a celebration of color and light. And I think now I may also be grateful to the Dark Shadow, what I try constantly to cover up. Perhaps it was only trying to give me its own dark wisdom. Maybe it was only trying to give me what I needed all along.
February 28, 2011 § 3 Comments
This winter I have been confronted by my own fear on numerous occasions. My fear of rodents and rodent-like animals is evident on the mornings when I (actually get out of bed to do it) run early, before dawn. I am vigilant, running down the middle of the road, throwing caution to the wind in order to avoid a 30-pound creature. The thing is though, sometimes the raccoons are real. I saw one a few weeks ago walking over the snow with its horrible arched back, its nose on the ground. It was across the street from me and when I tried to continue running it stood up on its fearsome hind legs and hissed at me. I had to stand there for a long time in the cold and wait until it walked away.
Today before yoga, the instructor came over to me and asked if she could “spotlight” me when demonstrating jumping back into chataranga. “What?” I asked and looked behind me. Who was she talking to?
“I can’t do it yet,” she told me.” Do you want to demonstrate?”
I stared at her. I have been working on jumping back for a while now, and sometimes I can do it but most times I can’t. “Thank you,” I said. “Really. But I am afraid I won’t be able to do it in front of everyone.” Cara, the teacher, was lovely about it. “It’s OK,” she said, “Don’t worry.”What I was thinking was, I can do jumpbacks? Seriously?? Me?
Immediately, I started freaking out. During our first downward dog, I was shaky and had butterflies. My back hurt. No way was I going to be able to do a jumpback now. My entire class was ruined. My heart was pounding. The raccoons were back. They were all around me, gnawing on my mat and walking all over my yoga towel with those paws of theirs.
I tried to watch the fear, to just stand in the cold until it was gone. i am not even sure where it came from. The thing about yoga though is that when the raccoons come – and they always come – there is nowhere else to go. You just hang out wherever you are and try desperately to breathe.
I am not sure why I was so freaked out by the attention. Sometimes I wonder if despite the fact that I always complain about feeling powerless, I actually prefer that feeling to the responsibility that comes with being powerful. Maybe I just didn’t want to be the person who could do a jumpback because then I would have to go through the complicated process of explaining that I wasn’t. That really, I was the person who couldn’t do the jumpthrough. Yoga was my safe place. I just wanted to blend in. I didn’t want any extra work there. I didn’t want to be useful. As much as I want to live yoga and be yoga, maybe I really don’t. Or maybe I believe I am not allowed to.
Tonight, in meditation, the hits continued: we had to partner up. (Partner up? No way. Shit. Can I sneak out?) I hate partnering up. It reminds me of holding sweaty hands in Brownies. Square dancing in gym class. Speed dating. Great, just great. Even meditation was going to be a bust today.
The experience was pretty full-on. I sat across from Jesse, a sommalier who is about my age. At first I was glad. I love Jesse. He’s always smiling and fun and I often place my mat next to his in yoga class because he can do jumpthroughs. I would be safe with Jesse. Then we began the awkward process of moving our mediation cushions closer together so that our knees were almost touching. Jesse and I smiled nervously at each other. We laughed. Ha ha.
I tried to take a deep breath. Oh god, this was awful. I was wearing a tee shirt I wore to a bonfire yesterday and it still smelled like smoke. I had gotten out of the shower 20 minutes prior and showed up to meditation with no makeup, my wet hair pulled back, my breath probably smelling of the balsamic vinaigrette I put on the salad we had for dinner. If I had known we were partnering up to enter the dharmakaya, I would have primped.
As Mimi led us in meditation, I felt myself holding my breath, even as she told us to inhale, to exhale deeply into the earth. I couldn’t breathe. I had no idea who I was supposed to be now, sitting in front of this yoga friend. In each area of my life I had a specific persona. At school I was the Good Mom. At the park I was the Playing Mom. With my extended family I was the Weird One Who Moved to California. With my friends I was who they needed me to be. At yoga I was the Invisible One (Who Can’t Do Jumpthroughs). These were important distinctions. They required preparation. Consistency.
But now, I was sitting in front of a yoga person and I couldn’t be invisible. We were extending to each other, sending each other our heart energy. Oh, jeez, I thought, feeling myself shake a bit. I just wanted my husband. He was my one safe person who I dropped all the personas for. Who was I supposed to be now?
Mimi started to read us a Buddhist text about Wish-Fulfilment. I tried to concentrate but I couldn’t listen to the words, send out my heart energy, and freak out at the same time. Fuck it, I thought. Wish-Fulfillment will have to wait. I gave up.
What happened is what always happen when we surrender. My heart opened up. I could breathe again. It was only Jesse after all. He didn’t have an arched back or too many sharp teeth. All I had to do was send him love and receive it. And soon that is what happened. I felt us sitting together inside of a giant heart. I could feel it beating and it held us up.
Afterwards, when we talked about our experience, Jesse said he felt safe, that there was a warm, benevolent energy around us. He said he felt as though we were in a container. Wow, I thought. He felt that too. It made me wonder what would have happened if I surrendered in yoga class and actually did the jumpback in front of class. Would it have been any more terrifying than this?
After class, I stopped at Trader Joe’s to get some fruit. At the entrance were tiny little weeping pussy willow trees. I love pussy willows and the boys and I talked about getting an Easter Tree and decorating it with felt eggs. (How Waldorf of me! How Good!) The tree was perfect, so I took it home and removed the little tag it came with to see how much water it needed. Instead of care instructions, what I found was a little story. Apparently, this little tree was a “Tree of Enchantment. Among the most graceful of trees, it is connected with all that is feminine-dreaming, intuition, emotion, enchantment, healing and revitalization. The willow’s flexibility symbolizes resilience and inspires us to move with life rather than resist what we are feeling.”
Below that were the real care instructions. It told me to make a wish, tell the tree my deepest desire and then tie a loose knot in one of the branches. After my wish was fulfilled, I was then to thank the tree. My heart opened a little bit more. I guess I got my wish-fulfillment after all.
December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
It’s been a month since I last posted and it is good to be back. I left because for a change, I had people paying me to write. And then I paid people to teach me how to write better. I had deadlines!! (Such a glamorous word to me, because I have always wanted to be a writer. And deadlines is such a writer’s word.) This fall I took 3 writing classes through UCLA Extension Writing Program and was paid to write two articles on local food and farmers. I knew the articles would be work, but I thought the classes would be easy. I mean, it’s extension, right?
All 3 classes were outstanding and I learned a great deal about the craft of writing. Additionally, I was able to workshop the first 40 pages of a novel I am finally putting on paper. This was probably the first time I have been out in the world like this (even though it was all online) since my oldest son was born 5 years ago. It felt good to do something for me, to learn something a little more tangible than how to mother, how to care, and how to love well.
It’s also been the first time in as many years that I had to do a bit of balancing, or maybe juggling? The first three weeks of class, I tried to do it all, and then stopped going to yoga in order to spend more time writing. The result was not so good. For the remaining six weeks, I tried to balance a bit better. I drank more tea and more green smoothies. I kept going to yoga but decided to stop my blog for a while. I stayed up really, really late most Monday nights. The result was better but not perfect.
I used to think that balance was about doing everything perfectly and just not letting anyone know how hard it was. Now I see that balance is sometimes about doing a little bit of everything, and sometimes it’s about making choices. And sometimes it’s just about trying to laugh as you fall down yet again.
My last post was about locking myself out of the house. For some reason – maybe the $236 price tag to get back in – that day has stuck with me. I have thought a lot about being locked out. Locked out of opportunities, locked out of youth, locked out of my own heart. That last one is a place familiar to me, or at least it used to be. I used to live there, a good distance away from myself, too busy trying to get everything right and make everyone happy.
It’s really my children who have let me back in. They gave me the keys home. In the last five years I have lived closer to the ground. Instead of circling around myself and running away from anything I didn’t want to face or acknowledge, I have had to sit still through the murky bogs of discomfort. With two babies in the house, where is there to go? And yet, when I don’t go – when I can finally stop running and just stay – the world cracks open. Who I thought I was cracked open. A few years ago when I was just starting out, when I was just realizing that I could listen to my own small tune instead of the steady thrum of the world, my yoga teacher stopped me outside of class. “I just want you to know,” he told me, “that I see who you really are.” And then he gave me a huge smile. I was stunned by this comment, and then I burst into tears.
I still don’t know who I really am. I am still learning. And there is usually a point every day when I look for an escape route. Each day I am reminded of what Pema Chodron says: “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.” I am still learning how to be still, how to be brave, how to mold my own life into what I want it to be. But now, I can say that I am here, somewhere under my skin, swimming slowly towards the center of myself. So I have missed this blog, because it’s all part of the navigation system. And it feels as indulgent as a box of truffles. What is it about telling the story of ourselves that gives us permission to live the story out loud?
A few days ago I picked up Mary Karr’s memoir, “Lit.” The first part of the book is a letter to her son, and the first line of the letter is, “Any way I tell this story is a lie.” I loved that. That my life is not the only one with more than a little fiction in it. But I love more how she ends the letter: “Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only way to get home.”
November 9, 2010 § 6 Comments
On Friday, I locked myself out of the house. It was both a stupid and innocent thing to do. Gus and I were going to pick Oliver up from preschool and I made it out the door with our usual pile of stuff: diapers, wipes, water, snacks, books, a Thomas train or two. We were both buckled into the car, when I realized I left my keys in the house. And, yep, the door locked behind me on my way out. At first, I wasn’t worried. We had a spare hidden in a fake rock by the garage. But then I remembered that the week before, Gus was playing with it, lost the key, and I hadn’t yet replaced it.
Shit, I thought. Shit, shit, shit. How was I going to get Oliver from school? How was I going to get Gus down for a nap? How was I going to get into the house? I started to panic a little. Okay a lot. And then I saw my husband’s red key ring in the back seat. I had borrowed his spare car keys last week and they were still in my car. They were there for the same reason I forgot to put the spare house key back in the rock: laziness, a stupid mistake. But there they were, shining and waiting for me. In an instant, everything changed. I could get Oliver from school! We could meet my husband at work and get his house key! We were mobile!
Thank you, I thought. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Suddenly, this stupid mistake filled me with gratitude. Gus was strapped into his car seat and not locked inside the house. I had keys, a wallet, a mobile phone. Since we were going to have a picnic in the park after school I had snacks, bottles of water, warm sweaters. I could have been walking out barefoot to take out the trash, but instead. I had shoes on my feet! In seconds I had gone from cursing to praying.
Everything didn’t work out as smoothly as I thought, of course. It turned out my husband didn’t have his house key at work, either, so I had to call a locksmith. The boys and I had to wait outside for almost an hour and Oliver had to go to the bathroom. The price to reenter our house was $236.44. And yet, through it all was a feeling of tremendous gratitude. The whole day had the vibration of a prayer to it. My boys were with me. We were safe. We had shoes. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Once we were inside our house again, the boys ran to the playroom as if it were brand new. I made a pot of coffee and took my time, appreciating my kitchen, the music playing, the sound of happy children, the smell of the coffee. Later, we went out and played in the leaves. The boys handed them to me as if they were offering me jewels and I accepted them, those gorgeous colors of flame and fire. Even in summer’s death, there is such beauty, such wonder.
The next day in yoga, Carolyn, the yoga teacher talked about the end of daylight savings time, how some people get depressed in the early darkness. She said we needed to stay positive, to see the light during this dark time of year. She mentioned that we could get up early and be greeted by the dawn now, that winter was a time to go within, to try something we had never dared to before. She said we shouldn’t be afraid.
I have always been one to get depressed with the lack of sun in the winter. In fact, that is one of the reasons I moved to California fifteen years ago. During my senior year at Cornell, I was so cold, I promised myself that winter would be my last. And now, I am facing my first winter in almost two decades. I am afraid of the cold dark days, the slush and sleet I will be trudging through. I am dreading the horrible flu I always manage to get around the winter solstice, the illnesses the boys will get, the way that tattered Christmas decorations hanging in January always break my heart a little bit. I am afraid of so much – of everything really, and all the time.
It’s no secret that I don’t want to live in Virginia, that I don’t like Washington, DC very much. I am tired of the endless aggression, of people blaring their car horns when I stop for someone in a crosswalk, of the way two parents pushing a single stroller can each be on a separate cell phone call, their baby staring straight ahead. Sometimes I think this whole city has absorbed the energy of a partisan government and there is so much tension, so much anger, so much unrest in everything. I don’t like the weather here or the landscape. I don’t like my son’s school and I feel like an outcast still. I am so homesick for California that there is always a place in my chest that is a little bit sore with the missing. And yet, by seeing only the darkness, I am missing out on all that there is here to be amazed by and grateful for: the kindness of our neighbors, the size of our house, the trees that soar into the sky, the autumn in its riot of color. And more importantly, it seems that there are lessons here for me that only this city can offer: how to slow down while all around me is moving so quickly, how to be alone, how to listen to the steady beat of my own human heart.
Locking myself out reminded me that there is always something to be thankful for, always enough, always abundance. I am trying to remember this, to learn the lessons as they come to me. The day before I asked for steadiness, and I was given a day to practice being steady. Now was a chance to practice gratitude, to realize that I had everything I needed, that enough is as good as a feast, that I am so very lucky. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
October 15, 2010 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, one of my worst fears was realized. It is a petty fear, one that has nothing to do with my family or with anything really important. It is a fear of the ego, but one that feels so very urgent. So very gripping. I have always been afraid that someday – any day – the world will realize what a fraud I really am. It’s like that dream, where I have no clothes on and the only thing I can hide behind are parking meters.
Recently, I wrote an article for the San Diego Reader on local food and where to get it. I’m a big fan of local food and local farmers, and my piece “Local Harvest” was meant to support San Diego farmers and direct people towards their produce and milk, meat and eggs. I defined local as “in San Diego county.” I was given 1000 words, paid $300, and spent over 40 hours on it. I thought it was good. I talked to farmers and chefs and butchers. I asked everyone I spoke to where I could find local meat, and the answer was always the same. “You can get local cows but they’re sent up to Imperial Valley to be slaughtered.” Or, “You can get local eggs, but no local chickens.” I wrote in my article that local meat – truly local meat – was impossible to find.
Yesterday, my editor sent me a note. You need to write an apology on Twitter, he said. And he forwarded me a link to a blog that skewered me for saying there was no local meat in San Diego. The writer of the blog owns a small restaurant in San Diego and uses local produce, California meat, and he makes his own sausage. He – like me – is a big proponent of local food.
On his blog he accused me of “screwing the factual pooch.” He said my article was a shame “because there might be people in San Diego who are thinking about looking into eating better food or local food, who then read some phoned-in nonsense and erroneously decide there’s no point in even asking for good food.” He said I misquoted the people I spoke with.
I read it and felt a growing sense of horror. I’m on your side, I wanted to say. Did you even read my article?
Regardless, Jay, the mean blogger was on a roll. He took bits of my article, made fun of it, and soon he had 15 commenters talking about what an idiot I was. Each comment seemed less and less based on reality. Each commenter grew more and more militant about things that had never happened. This, I thought is why we are at war with Iraq for the 9/11 bombing committed by Saudi terrorists. One of the commenters was even someone I interviewed and praised in my piece. Maybe she didn’t read the article either?
My favorite comment was from someone named “Becky” who said I wasn’t a “real reporter.” You’re right, I wanted to tell her. I’m not a real anything. I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying to do some writing. I have a degree in biology, half a clue about parenting, 3 hours of paid childcare a week, and no idea how to do much at all except bake a pretty good pound cake. I wanted to cry, except the babysitter was leaving and my son wanted me to play with him.
Luckily for me, my husband shooed me off to yoga later that night, and on the way to class, I thought about how compassionate my editor was to me, how kind. “Write another article,” he told me. “Call the cranky blogger and follow his leads. See what happens.” I was so relieved, I was so grateful, and then immediately I was so ashamed. I never let people off the hook. Although I don’t want to, I believe people need to pay for what they do. They need to atone. The fact that my editor let me off so quickly, without hesitation, showed me how I keep everyone on the hook, from George W. Bush for the war, to the lady at the dry cleaner for yelling at me for losing my ticket, to myself, for everything.
In yoga last night, Kathy, my instructor started off class talking about teachers. “Our teachers are everywhere,” she said. “The word Guru means to take away the darkness.” Deepak Chopra wrote something similar in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. “Our tormentors and our teachers are one and the same.” I thought of my editor. I thought of my son, who pushes me to my furthest limits. I thought of my husband. I thought of Jay, the mean blogger. I thought of Becky, who didn’t think I was a real reporter. What is real anyway?
The real reason I was online yesterday and had a babysitter was that I am taking some writing classes through UCLA Extension. Some of the people in my class think I am OK, or at least that is what they say. One side of my computer had my gmail account up, my editor’s email to me and Jay’s blog about my phoned-in nonsense and factual pooch. The other side of my computer had a window up to my online writing class. “I like your story,” someone said. “I think you’re brilliant,” was another comment.
In yoga class, as I lay in Savasana, I thought about my computer, those disparate messages on my screen. “Not a real reporter.” And “You’re brilliant.” “Screwing the factual pooch,” and “I love how you write.” Opposites, staring up at me. They both can’t be right, I thought. And they both can’t be wrong.
I did some coaching with Rolf Gates this summer and he often reminded me about a poem by Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
Rightdoing and Wrongdoing. Wasn’t that how the world worked? You’re right, I’m wrong. Black. White. None of it made any sense. I wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t screw the factual pooch. I wasn’t a real reporter. I wasn’t a fraud. I finally got – lying there on my back in a stinky, sweaty yoga studio – that in the end, it didn’t matter what people said. They would say I was great. They would say I sucked. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. In the end, all there is is the work. In the end, all there is is yourself. You show up. You do what matters. You do your best. You do what you can. Finally, I saw that the reactions – even the good ones I have built my entire life around – were meaningless. Reactions were only other people. Reactions were only their work.
To understand the magnitude of this is to know that my entire life has been based around pleasing people. My whole life has been a huge effort to make sure people don’t know that I am really a fake. That I am not who I pretend to be. And now I see that it just doesn’t matter. What matters is kindness. What matters is love. What matters is letting people off the hook.
I watch my children to whom all of this hard stuff comes easy. My sons fight about Thomas trains. About LEGO catalogs. About crayons. And yet, in the back seat of the car, three seconds later, they are holding hands. They are interlocking a finger. They are holding onto each other. They are showing me what a fraud I am and how, in the end, it doesn’t really matter very much.