Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tending the Infrastructure

I've made a decision. Apparently, I find this so stunning that I thought I should share that fact with you ;)

I am taking a step WAY back next semester -or so it will appear, anyway. I am not (NOT, I tell you!!!) abandoning my dreams. I am just considering the possibility that those dreams need a different kind of attention from me. The truth is that meaningful dreams need strong foundations, and I have let that part slip -favoring the super-structure, I suppose.

I am not saying it's wrong to focus on the "pie in the sky." I'll always be an idealist and a dreamer; the world needs us. Yet, for really the first time in my life, I mean it when I say that I am following my bliss. I don't have time to kid around about that. So, in order to make that happen, there is a metaphorical frame to be built and concrete to be poured. It's not glamorous, but I can't afford to skip this part.

Silly stuff has been left languishing. I haven't finished changing my name -all the way down to the last magazine and credit card. That makes me crazy, but there has been no time. My passport needs to be renewed. I haven't made a five-or-so year plan as to what I need to do; I have been hopping sort of willy-nilly from one -very useful- thing to another. I have a boat-load of foundational reading that needs to be done. Heaven knows that I don't have a body that will take me healthfully into old age -much less one that will allow me to trek around in rural India figuring things out. I have to engage with the work I am doing now -for its own sake, because it's interesting and important, AND because it is the foundation for what comes next.

So, a few more days of this semester, with what remains of my grace and general oomph, and then it's on to a different kind of work. It will look slower, but it's just as important as the flashier stuff.

I'm terrified. I know I can live on fast-forward; it's my favorite mode. Can I really methodically build something? We shall see.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Claddagh and Cillian are Cilling Me ;)

We've had some cat dramas around here. My daughter and I aren't very good at this. We inherited Claddagh -a maybe 6-month old cat when he found us. Seriously, he is the best kitty in all the land. He gives hugs. How many cats do that?

At the time that we got him, Victoria lived with me. Very shortly thereafter, though, she found a sweet little house just perfect for her. She moved out, but no worries. We figured Claddagh would have two mommies; he would stay with me for a while and then with her for a while. Claddagh is quite a large cat. I am assured that he's not fat, but he's big. His brain, however, is the size of a walnut. This having two mommies thing was just too hard for him. He needed to have one home.

At the time that Victoria and I confronted this, Claddagh was with her. Along came a second kitty. Simone. Simone is 12 weeks old, and TINY. Perfect. Now Victoria can have one, and I can have another. We separated them.

Claddagh pined. We should have separated them immediately, apparently. And, we now know, loyalty can fit inside a walnut-sized brain. That, or it resides in the heart. So, here comes Cillian, an 8-week-old little warrior. He fits easily into my palm, and my hands aren't what you would call large. He bounces everywhere, rides on the Roomba, hides under tiny little spaces, and terrorizes me and Claddagh both. I'm exhausted. I have this nice, large house, and yet we are all three, at this moment, in one chair. Claddagh is grooming Cillian. Cillian is snoring, exhausted for the time being. And I'm trying not to get scooched off onto the floor.

But my life is that much bigger. (I'm done now, though. Two cats are entirely enough for me.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Living my Best Life

I don't know how to live my best life. You know that, right? No experts here! If that's what you're looking for, move along; there is nothing to see. Just like everyone else, I'm struggling with this idea. Practicing self-care without spinning off into hedonism. Learning discipline without trailing off into asceticism. Observing one's own process without becoming a narcissist. This is work.

Right now, I have some not-huge-but-definitely-there questions I need to answer, in the fairly near future. As in, a few days ago would have been good. They have to do with work load and my ability to manage my time -and my apparent inability to create more time out of thin air, in spite of my clear need and worthiness ;) And, we might as well be honest, my own need to do a good job at everything is also involved.

For the past year, I have kept myself wildly busy. I did this on purpose. On the one hand, I put off my own dreams for too long. I don't have time to delay them any longer; being tired isn't a good enough excuse. And, I was very afraid that if I allowed myself very much (any) unstructured time, I would sit home and brood. Bitterness isn't really in my nature, but self-pity can be. So, keep moving-no brooding. That was my thinking.

That strategy worked, in a sense. I have made important strides. I feel better. Most of the time, I am grateful to be living alone and having this opportunity to be self-determining. Gradually, though, it has become easier (less difficult, anyway)to let some things go. I am no longer working at the yarn shop on Saturdays. I don't need the money (although I will sorely miss the discount on yarn!) and I do need the Saturdays. My thinking was that I had let some things go in the service of others. Yet, I see now that I was still leading with fear. Little wonder, I suppose, given my recent experiences. Yet, I think it's time to do something else.

I have this picture of my perfect life. It involves work for social justice (from which I am almost completely separate these days); thinking, writing, and teaching; a varied and festive social life with my friends and family; a welcoming, calm home; rock-climbing, biking, and yoga; creativity (which mostly means knitting and writing); cooking, baking, reading for fun, travel... It's a picture I acknowledge to be unattainable. It's a world where the clothes are never wrinkled, my haircut isn't two weeks overdue, and all work is accomplished easily in its appointed time. Yes, I see the problem. I am simultaneously unable to live up to this fantasy and unwilling to let it go.

People advise me to do less -lower my standards. It's perfectly valid, but I don't think it's the answer for me. Until I find the right balance, I'm going to entertain the possibility that I am also living my best life when I doubt, when I am exhausted, when I just flat-out don't feel like working this hard anymore. I can't will those feelings away. But I can try to hold the dream as a gentle thing in front of me, and try to love myself into it.

The pace may not change, but its frantic nature might. Or, love will have a gentler pace than fear. We'll see.

We can not dedicate...we can not consecrate....

It's the anniversary of the Gettysburg address. If you go here: Gettysburg drafts, you can see drafts of the address.

I have nothing terribly insightful to add to the conversation about the Gettysburg address. I can tell you that I went to Gettysburg for the first time as an adult, with my sister who lives near there. Two Southern girls walking around in Gettysburg -if there are ghosts anywhere, there are ghosts there. I'm quite sure of it. It is a place of powerful sadness, and Lincoln tried -I think- to rhetorically ease the pain. I can't imagine that he succeeded, but the appeal to our better nature can't be a waste of time.

Lift a glass with me this evening and, perhaps, reflect on visionary leadership, your best self, and Lincoln's damn fine writing.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Boys Have Cooties

Oh, relax. I'm not casting aspersions on almost 50% of the population. I'm referring to the stage in life when boys and girls each think that the other one has cooties. It's a silly game -not at all new or rare, in a cultural sense. Children learn it from each other, and it serves the cultural and developmental purpose of fostering same-sex communities among children when sexuality (whatever its adult orientation) ought to be delightfully latent. Those cooties clear right up when the time is right ;)

So, here I am at my age, and boys apparently have cooties again. I have had precisely three "dates" in the last two years. Each was a hurdle of monumental proportions for me -and two of the men I know well and really love, in a different sort of way. I thought of a million excuses why I shouldn't go. I considered pretending to be sick. Then I practically WAS sick.

This is not going well, dear ones. I never struggled with trust before, and now my distrust of grown-up, intimate relationships is like a wall of bricks around me. Actually, that's not quite the right metaphor, because this brick wall has a weight that I must carry around. In some ways it makes me angry. Math-Rat just handed me these bricks and said, metaphorically, "Here, carry these for a while. I'm going to go play." And he did, and I've still got the darn bricks.

Here's my thinking. I only see three possibilities here. There may be more, but I only see three. One is that I work out my trust issues myself, but within the community of women where I usually find myself. It would be sort of a "red tent" approach to this healing thing. Men are out there, certainly. A few extraordinary men are even my friends -and brothers are always exempt from the cootie thing, so there's that, too. Maybe if I think that boys have cooties again and work on my own developmental issues, however long it takes, I (we) can resolve this.

The second possibility is that there's a guy out there who is willing to help me dismantle this brick wall, piece by piece. That is a LOT to ask of a person who can not be certain that it will even be worth the trouble (which is the definition of commitment, I suppose. One can't know how it will turn out and yet ponies up anyway.) It will be a long process. And I know me -I will run that person a not-so-merry chase. Seriously, what are the odds such a person even exists?

Third, I just sit tight. Choosing not to work on these trust issues hurts no one else, and I'm not sure it even hurts me. I have learned that lonely alone is way better than lonely together, which is what I was for years in my marriage. I'm doing fine right here. Perhaps there is no need to push myself to dismantle this brick wall, which might well be protecting me. Maybe it will just fall down when the time is right. It could even fall down from natural causes and still there would be no intimate relationship, right? That would be a kind of decision from a more powerful place.

I'm me. I would like to be a better me. So I push myself to confront things, fix things, move forward...blah, blah, blah. I make charts and lists and plans. You've heard me blather on in that vein forever. I want to chuck these bricks. (Hurling them vaguely toward the Math Department comes to mind, but that's only funny for a second.) But for now, I'm pretending like boys have cooties. I just think it's going to work better that way.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Big Red Book

I don't know why I am so intent on seeing this book, but I am.

Maybe it's that old University of Chicago great books thing. Maybe I'm just a nosy old biddy. For whatever reason, though, I am considering a trip to New York to see Carl Jung's "secret" book, which he unimaginatively called Liber Novus. (If he had written one after this, would it have been the New New Book -or the Really I mean it this time New Book?) But when I first came across Jung's work in college, I felt like I had come home. Archetypes, the collective unconscious, individuation, integration....I became an 18-year-old groupie of a slightly mystical, spectacularly imperfect, psychiatrist from Switzerland. Leave the Back Street Boys to someone else; I was waiting at a different kind of stage door.

OK, I get it. Not everyone gets this excited about ideas -particularly someone else's ideas. And I've mellowed, anyway, to say nothing of having discovered the thinking of other scholars of the mind. I've even had an idea or two of my own, thank you very much.

But this book.... seriously, I want to see it. In it, Jung chronicled and created illuminated illustrations about his dreams, hallucinations, and encounters with the collective unconscious. He worried that he might be having psychotic episodes. His heirs apparently concurred; they have kept this book unavailable since Jung's death in the early 60s. Yet, through these dreams, he came to the theories of the collective unconscious and archetypes as tools for working toward a healthy emotional life. He famously was unwilling to let anything or anyone go from his life until he had figured out why they were there in the first place. What had they come to teach him?

So, he purposely confronted (and occasionally induced) his own hallucinations in order to learn from them. I can't quite imagine having a rich enough interior life that visions would come to me. I think they would spot infertile soil and go bother someone else ;) And yet, what they teach me is that we're not meant to simply explore the depths of our own psyches. That's necessary but insufficient, as the logicians would say. Rather, there is something "out there" that's bigger than we are, and we are meant to explore that, too. Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.

Of course, reading about someone else's journey is not quite the same thing as having undertaken it oneself. Everyone has her own work to do in this regard, and insofar as I've even started it, I can report that it's not always fun. (It might have been easier if I had fallen for the Back Street Boys, now that I think about it.) But I'm going to New York anyway, to indulge my hero-worship just a tad but also to acknowledge the intellectual and spiritual curiosity as well as the courage of a mind that shaped mine.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Bruised Ego

Settle in, boys and girls, for a story.

Once upon a time, I was physically fit and strong and thin. I never thought I was thin, but that's another story for another day. I also practiced yoga for years and years -starting before some of you were even a twinkle in your Mama's eye. I learned some silly things and some unimaginably important things while spending time on my mat. I learned how to put my foot behind my head (that goes in the "silly thing" category, in case you were wondering) and how to be a more loving person. I learned how to twist myself up into a pretzel and how to confront some of the pretzel-y knots in my own psyche.

And I thought I learned about ego. Bearing in mind that none of these important life lessons is learned and then is over and done-with, I thought I had confronted this one. (Who's that snorting in derision? I hear you!) Seriously, I kind of thought that my ego issues went the other way -that I had been with a man I thought to be strong, but really just needed constant ego massage. His strategy for getting that reinforcement was to make other people feel small. Even more clever, he was good at getting the people around him to admit they were small before he even asked. So I thought my task was to find ego-strength where I had assumed there was none.

Alas, it is more complicated than that. Yesterday I went to a 3-hour yoga workshop. I have started to re-claim my yoga practice, but it is nowhere nearly as consistent or disciplined as it has been in years gone by. So I knew I was walking into this workshop under-prepared. In my home practice, I am learning to be gentle with myself when I can't (yet) do poses that, a long time ago, were easy. In class yesterday, I realized that there was still quite a bit of ego attached to being good at yoga.

Sigh. Just when you think you're making progress, the universe points out a spectacular area of blindness. And now that you're no longer blind to it, you're obliged to work on it. Damn it. (Oh sorry, young ones.... I mean.... gosh, universe, thanks for this opportunity to become a better person.)

I looked around at all the strong, lean yoga bodies and was unhappy with the size, shape, and fitness of my own body. I couldn't really see other people's postures to compare, but I felt worried and unhappy that I had to so intensely modify my own postures. I could compare my today-postures with my years-ago postures, and I didn't like the trajectory. My self-talk was screaming "I used to be good at this. I want you all to know that I used to be good at this. I know the Sanskrit names for postures. I know alignment principles. I have mat-cred (the yoga equivalent of street-cred, I suppose)".

Wow, who is that arrogant/desperate pain in the ass and would she please shut up?

So, today is all about ibuprofen for the muscles and the spirit. On some level, I'm hobbling around a little bruised. On the other hand, being worked just a smidge beyond your comfort level is how you make progress. As long as I extend compassion to myself as well as other people, this will probably work. I can only start where I am, right? So, I'm reframing all of this to put it into the "hurts so good" category. I'm almost convinced.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

And the Winner Is....

Seriously.... my favorite Sesame Street clip of all times....

Check out the girl with the pony tail!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yip Yip Martians Meet the Telephone

I still say "get the earth book" when people or events perplex me. Alas, it works about as well for me as it did for the Yip Yip Martians.

I am getting such a kick out of revisiting these memories.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Me, Claudius

More Sesame Street memories. I remember laughing until I cried when this came on, and my then-small children (who of course had not yet encountered I, Claudius) wondering quite explicitly if Mom had really, finally, this time lost her mind. But they would obligingly call me into the living room to see this clip when it was repeated.

They later took out the line "Monsterpiece Theater, home of classy drama." I thought it was hilarious, but I suppose it really did have to go. There's no sense teaching kids intellectual classism. And later Alistair Cookie stopped eating his pipe at the end of clips. Again, it probably needed to go, but Cookie Monster would have eaten his pipe, don't you think? There's only so much class Cookie could provide ;)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sesame Street and Sign Language

Just another reason to love Sesame Street. It normalized the use of sign language. This is a beautiful poem, in so many ways.

Chariots of Fur

In honor of Sesame Street's 40th birthday, I spent an absurd amount of time last night looking for my favorite Sesame Street clips. Here's one from the Monsterpiece Theater series:

Alistair Cookie is too perfect.

I admit to running like Grover -minimum speed, maximum melodrama.

And we get by with a little help from our friends. Morality tales from Sesame Street -a part of my childhood and my children's.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

ET Phone Home

I make no claims that my life is more complicated than other grownups in the modern world. It's probably not even all that much more complicated than some children's lives in this modern world. Nonetheless, it's more complicated than I'm used to, so there's a sense of frantic-ness as I try to get everything done. (Sorry for pointing out the obvious. You've probably noticed my mild hysteria on this point.)

So, the question becomes -in part- how to be the most productive in the time I have available. There are other fruitful questions. I do know that. Are there things that can be cut from the schedule? How might I live gracefully, given the constraints of time and money that we all face? How can I live a balanced life? But today, I want to talk about being productive. If I'm more efficient with my task-time, then some pieces of those other questions answer themselves.

So, to make the question even more precise, how do you use your phone as a productivity tool? I have this fancy phone, and I do use it. But I have a feeling that I'm under-using it just a bit. As with everything else, it needs to earn its keep. What can it do for me?

I'm figuring out how to do mobile blogging. That's going to be rocky for a bit. I've figured out how to upload photos from my phone directly to facebook -which is hardly a productivity tool, but at least I don't waste time looking for the camera cord quite so often. I have my grocery, and hardware store, and Target lists stored in there. I do have the navigation tool, which I recommend. The stand-along GPS would be cheaper, but since I want to get back into long-distance cycling and I would take my phone with me anyway on those trips, the phone navigation tool is useful.

My brother uses it to calculate (or store... or view.... or something) his blood pressure records. My techno-whiz sister doesn't use it for an mp3 player, so I don't either. What do you know that I should know?

Monday, November 02, 2009

I'm This Kind of Athlete

Ages ago, my long-suffering life coach suggested that my weight and my fitness level would improve when I truly loved myself. Yeah, well, I thought. If I wait for that to happen, I'll die a fat, miserable, unhealthy old wreck of a human. Must.... muscle...through.

Clearly, that didn't happen. Perhaps too many other things in my life were requiring my muscle. Perhaps in subtle and un-subtle ways I had been told I wasn't good enough -and to own my complicity in that game, I am quite willing to go there with the slightest suggestion that it might be true. No one needs to work very hard to convince me of my unworthiness.

In spite of what I took to be my self-evident unworthiness, I set myself the gentle tasks of getting back to yoga and rock climbing in this fall semester. All I had to do was climb once a week and do yoga twice a week -and not beat myself up for not doing more. These are fitness (and wellness) activities that I love. They're not "working out," somehow. They aren't play, exactly, and sometimes these activities can be very hard indeed. But nor are they tedious, and for some reason I can get past the thought that people are looking at me as though I don't deserve to be there.

The visible results have not been stellar. True is true, and I still look like a fat person. And yet... my body is responding. I've talked before about how my hands are waking up, and no longer need to be iced after climbing. I can knit for hours -assuming I had hours in the schedule, which almost never happens. My flexibility isn't what it used to be, but it's way better than it was three months ago. And it's teaching me something important to have to work for it. Even my knees are better. They are still fragile and cause me tears. Yet, the other day, I forgot that I "couldn't" get into hero's pose and just did it. Of course, getting out of the posture made me cry, literally. But forgetting that there is an impairment is a huge change in self-concept.

So where do I go from here?

I don't want to climb Mt. Everest. It's probably cold, and I would have to carry my own luggage. (Or get a sherpa to do it, which is equally repugnant to me.) I don't want to be a body builder. In fact, I would prefer not to do strength training at all, but I don't think I'll get that wish. I don't want to play any sport that involves a ball. Ever. Ice climbing is a big fat "no".

"Maybes" include running. I've tried before, and failed, but something in me won't let it go. Kayaking is a maybe. There is much there that makes me feel inadequate, but I think it can be overcome.

Definites are long- and short-distance cycling, climbing, and yoga. I would love to be able to participate in a three-day walk for a good cause. Swimming is a yes, because scuba and snorkeling are definitely on my "someday" list.

I have no interest in being competitive or best or strongest or fastest. Feh. I'm not that kind of athlete. But now that I've watched my body begin to awaken from its long sleep, I know what kind of athlete I am.

I can do amazing things, on my terms. I can make progress as slowly as I want to, or not at all if I don't want to. I'm 51 years old and I climb rocks and bike and swim and do yoga. Today I'm going to the pool, wearing my appallingly-sized Speedo. It'll be psychologically hard, but I deserve to be there just as much as anyone else. Besides, once I'm in the water, no one can really see how big I am.

I'm that kind of athlete -the kind with low standards and big dreams.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Oh my lands. I am trying to blog from my phone. Unsupervised. This is unlikely to work, but once I master it, I hope it helps me claim lost bits of time.