Category: Big Thoughts

Moving the furniture

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newly arranged living-room

Saturday. Day of quiet and rain.

Sunday. Day of hopping out of bed early for a long run. Oh, and more rain.

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Saturday evening we decided to rearrange the living-room. I’m not sure why, but it always makes me happy to rearrange a room. Baking bread has a similar effect on my spirits. So does going for a run. Life is full of simple cures that are next thing to free for the taking.

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practicing for imminent piano recital

The newly arranged living-room changes the focus, upon entering the house, away from the television. (Hurray!) Instead, you’ll see the beautiful painting, as shown in the top photo, by Barry Lorne, which he generously gave us as a wedding gift. You’ll see books, too. Hidden behind the old brown couch is the art section. There is room for a communal computer.

Here is what I am thinking about on this blustery weekend.

This morning it was so easy to go for a run. Yesterday, I felt lethargic, as immovable as stone. Life may be full of cures free for the taking — but I confess that some days it is harder than others to take that first step, to put the best plan into motion. There have been times, lately, when I wonder what I’m doing wrong, wonder why I’m so tired, why I’m dropping the ball as often as not. Maybe I wish I were superwoman, leaping from role to role effortlessly, existing on little sleep, splendidly strong and competent and certain.

Instead, I’m just plain me. Rearranging the furniture, and making pad thai for supper, and falling asleep on the couch with a book.

Say it simple, say it best

jimmy'slunch
thanks to my mom for taking this photo of my kids walking to a diner for breakfast

This morning, our littlest piano player was becoming frustrated with her practicing. Slam, slam, slam the fingers on the keys, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG, wrong note, BANG. “This song is too hard!” This was preceded by a ridiculous argument with her sister over the “funnies” in the paper (which no one finds funny, yet everyone insists on reading; which I find funny). And it was followed by a ridiculous argument with said sister over a sunhat — she wanted to wear her sister’s hat, which was apparently much superior to her own. “I only have one hat and she has two!” was the cry of misery.

Suddenly I realized — she was tired. It had been a late night, her first soccer practice of the season, bedtime pushed back by an hour, and she’d woken early.

Ah. It all made perfect sense.

I’m feeling a little bit the same way myself, frankly. Need more sleep.

Risk’s potential

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Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it’s because I’m woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o’clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. “Where were you this morning?” they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.

I’ll admit: it wasn’t easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I’ll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I’m friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. (“This toast is too cold!” “This porridge is too hot!”)

This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend’s father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I’d never met. She wasn’t a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend’s father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend’s father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn’t that amazing?

This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.

Meaningful relationships don’t have to be conventional. They don’t necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.

Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn’t been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.

I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood — the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.

It’s as easy — and as crazy hard — as stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Life is bigger

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A poem for this day


I am swept along
I am a still point in a river that will not quit its rushing
I am immersed in the world
I am blessed
I am not to understand everything and not to take anything
I am given to grace and place
I am sure as a branch and broken as a branch
I am breath and brilliance and calm
While I am, I am
With love with fierceness with the selfness of ongoing until
Gone
Burn in the water flame in the soil flicker in the darkness of a house at midnight
Steady on.

Get up and fly

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flying

On this morning’s run, my friend and I were talking about exercising. About how exercise keeps us balanced, mentally. Yet when we most need to move, to sweat, to feel alive in our bodies is often when we are least in the mood for it. Mental strength underpins physical strength; and we don’t always feel strong or motivated or inspired. I still find it unpleasant, every morning, when the alarm goes off early. I feel resistant to leaving my warm bed and the sweet state of sleep. Every single morning. There hasn’t been one morning when I’ve greeted the alarm by leaping up with joy in my heart. But I do it. And within minutes I’ve gathered my clothes, I’m brushing my teeth, and I’m already beyond the yucky feeling of I don’t want to. I’m ready to go.

What’s the lesson here? Establish a habit. Make a routine that runs counter to your immediate instinct. I’ve never once regretted getting up early to exercise. Yet somehow my mind forgets that every morning. But that’s okay. Because my habits and routine remind me. Other tips for exercising regularly, even when you don’t feel like it: Meet someone — makes it harder to change your plan last-minute. Set out your clothes the night before. Get up and go. Don’t think about it, just do it.

Okay, enough with the motivational messaging.

Today is the day I dreamed of yesterday. The kids left for school with minimal complaining. Lots of kisses from the two youngest. Hugs from the two oldest. Quick nap. Cup of coffee. Finishing the last of the interviews for this article. Sitting and dreaming. Quiet house.

Have I told you that next week is a writing week? It will be my first writing week in this new office space. It will be my first attempt to dig into the new book. I may not update here on the blog quite as often; then again, I may need to blog more often, who knows.

Here are four things that are making me happy this morning.

One is the status update of a writer friend I know only on Facebook: “A must read. I simply can’t stop underlining this book!” with a link to The Juliet Stories. (Wish I could peek in her copy to see what she’s been drawn to.)

Two is a book review by my friend Nath, who didn’t tell me she’d decided to blog about The Juliet Stories. I love hearing her thoughts. Maybe we’ll even talk about it someday while we’re driving to spin class together (or biking outside together–soon!).

Three is an invitation from the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival to do a writing workshop with high school students, and to meet students, on two different occasions.

Four is doing interviews for this freelance piece. I think of myself as shy, but I’ve been really enjoying interviewing people. Maybe this relates back to my original thought o’ the day: don’t automatically trust your immediate instinct. Why would I think of myself as shy? I enjoy talking to be people, and do it regularly. In high school, I was genuinely shy. But that’s more than half my life ago. Time to update the mental self-image.

Be kind

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Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.

I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.

So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).

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And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.

She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.

:::

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An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.

Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.

There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.

How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?

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