Category: Big Thoughts

Jump!

The jump! This is how I’m feeling today. I haven’t even had a cup of coffee, but it’s 10 o’clock in the morning, and the house is emptied of its usual noise. The oven is on, baking up two pans of sticky buns, and I’ve just jumped on my bed, and recorded it for posterity. Looking at that image, I think, not grown woman with four children and major life responsibilities, but girl. Sometimes it seems to me that I’m too in touch with my inner child: silly, goofy, self-involved, jumping on the bed.
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Last night, I walked out of our family meeting. I was appalled afterward to think of the poor conflict resolution skills that action demonstrated. Fight or flight? I’m flight.
Oddly, the results of me saying, “That’s it, I’m done with this meeting, and I’m going to do the dishes,” turned out to have a positive effect on what had degenerated into an argument over the Talking Stick and its underling, the Second Talking Stick: which had more power? (CJ had been monopolizing the original talking stick for his own purposes, so Albus had introduced a second). No one could hear anyone talking over the talking stick debate, so when I walked off to do the dishes, everyone else cleared off too, and the kids went to play in the living room. They played together for the next HOUR. All of them. Huh? So, let’s summarize. Family meeting = children arguing so loudly that no one can hear each other. Mama walking out on family meeting = children playing happily together.
A couple of positives that I took from the family meeting: 1. Albus explained to Fooey what family meetings are supposed to be about: “It’s not about the ice cream! It’s about us being together and talking as a family!” 2. We actually did discuss one important topic, though found no resolution. Topic? Extra-curricular activities.
This week, Albus has been particularly unhappy, crying, sad, angry, refusing to get out of the car, etc., at both piano lessons and swim lessons. I just sit quietly and gently and wait for him to change his mind and come with us. But it sort of depresses me, wears me down, makes me sad, too; that I can’t find a way to make him happier in the situation.
Music isn’t an option; to me, it’s a skill as important to learn as reading, but it doesn’t matter what instrument is involved. Albus has expressed interest in guitar, so why not? But he still has to finish this year’s piano lessons. And both AppleApple and Albus were upset about taking the same swim class over and over again (they are on their fourth or fifth round of Swim Kids Five; perhaps a rec centre record?). I get it. It sucks. But only with practice will they get better and better till they pass. They are both close to passing in terms of the skills they’ve acquired. But I watched them yesterday and suspect they have another round of swim kids five before them this summer. (Though CJ did a whole lesson on his own, while I stood at the edge of the pool in my swimsuit prepared to leap in and rescue him, lest he step off into the abyss whilst his sweet swim teacher was otherwise occupied with another toddler in her care. Yikes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to relax in the stands after all, even if he makes the transition to solo lessons.)
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Buzzer just went. Sticky buns done! I cannot help myself. I must take a photo and post it right now. They smell THAT GOOD.
:::
Back to the family meeting. How did we resolve the anger and frustration over children not wanting to learn skills that we parents consider to be important? Short answer: we didn’t. But at least we tried to talk about it. We can try again next week. Till I storm off. Joking. That was a joke.
:::
This week’s yoga revelation: sometimes 100% effort yields less than, say, 80% effort. Sometimes the best things are created when we’re not trying quite so hard, when we’re loose, when we let go. You measure what you’ve got, and you give just a little bit less. (This, as a concept, is almost impossible for me to put into action; honestly, I have to grate against my instincts; it’s painful). It’s partly about setting priorities, saving something of yourself for everything that needs doing. And it’s also about letting go of the idea of perfection. Maybe my inner child gets it better than I do. Maybe I should let her jump on the bed more often.

Practice

Thought of the day: everything that we do is what we are choosing (consciously or otherwise) to practice. Today I practiced conversation and empathy. I practiced internet surfing and self-distraction. I practiced cooking (hey–all the practice is paying off; I’m getting pretty good at it). I practiced meditation while hanging laundry. I practiced patience and kindness. I practiced sitting in a hallway outside my kids’ music lessons and enjoying time with my two-year-old (also getting pretty good at that). I practiced yoga, and breathing.
How powerful it is to commit to something and to practice it. Think of the depth that is possible within long-term practice. The idea of practice is often boring, repetitive; but in reality, each time is different, and interesting for its own unique set of circumstances. Each practice is a moment, and deliberate practice has the potential to be so satisfying, knowing that you’re digging yourself deeper into an experience and a process. Knowing that even if you’re at a plateau or slipped a bit backwards, it’s okay. It’s just where you’re at in the practice, and practice itself will take you somewhere else. Long-term practice of anything brings greater freedom. You know yourself within the practice so very well, and you know where you can push harder, or bend, or take a risk, or jump, or laugh, or cry; or you know to hold back just for now and not be so hard on yourself.
Tomorrow, I commit to practicing writing. Oh, and the cooking some more. Dish washing. Laundry. Can’t get enough of that laundry practice. (Though, in truth, I’m not much good at laundry, just at practicing it. Sometimes that’s okay too.)

Challenge/Reward

In today’s yoga class, which seemed to catch me feeling more tired than usual, I kept thinking: this sucks and it’s hard. Fortunately, the instructor seemed to catch the vibe (which might have been everyone else’s too, who knows), and asked us to take our thoughts elsewhere if something negative was coming up. So, I changed it to: this is challenging, and it might be rewarding. Not quite thoroughly positive, but all I could muster. And it helped.
This week’s classes have brought out a few Big Thoughts. One, that I always have a little more to give. I always do. I don’t think that I do, I can’t imagine it could be possible, but if asked to give a little more, reach a little further, hold a pose a little longer … it’s there. I can. This is a strengthening metaphor for the whole of my life. The only thing holding me from giving more is my own belief that I’m spent, and that I can’t.
That said, my other Big Thought was that pushing toward my potential is a delicate balance of being compassionate while asking more of myself. Compassion isn’t about letting someone off the hook, it’s about recognizing the frailty and vulnerability and strength in another person. Even if that person is oneself. The more I practice yoga, the more open I become to accepting my weaknesses, and the difference in my practice from session to session. It’s humbling. Some days I feel strong and energetic. Other days it is more of a struggle. And pushing through on the days of struggle leave me with a greater sense of accomplishment afterward, while on my strong days the sense of accomplishment is accessible within the practice itself.
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In other news … CJ has been peeing on his potty with more consistency–and a lot of pride. The other evening, he timed it with dinner and got a hearty standing ovation from his family. I am almost considering hunting in the attic for some toddler-sized underpants, but I’m not sure how quickly to move with that next step, especially since he gets cared for out of the house and by other people more often than the other children did at the same potty-training point. At this point in the training, once the body awareness is there, it’s a pretty big leap to being consistent all day long. It requires an adult with spidey-senses on the alert. Full-time. For at least a week or two. And when training this early, it also requires spare pants in the diaper bag. If he’s ready, I’m ready. No pushing.
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Finally, can I just say … I was pretty disappointed in myself for not enjoying March break more. More precisely, for not enjoying being with my children non-stop during March break more. However, it did make clear that last summer’s writing holiday will not be happening this summer, not unless I crave a nervous breakdown. I’ve become accustomed to having time to pursue my own work. I need it now. Even when it sucks and it’s hard. Because, yes, it is also challenging and potentially rewarding.

Getting Dressed

This week, I did something I haven’t done before. I removed two blog posts. They were public for about 24 hours, and then I took them down. I’m still not sure whether it was the right decision.

I love this blog. I love recording bits and pieces of our life. I’ve also loved talking more about my writing life; that’s been really good for my psyche, I think, and has allowed me to “come out” as a writer–to myself, as much as to anyone else. Writing about it, not in a journal, but online, somehow changed how I saw my own identity. I used to hate to identify as a writer (and I’m talking about AFTER I published a book, not before). I never knew what to say when someone complimented me or wanted to talk about writing. If I’m to analyze it (and how could I possibly stop myself from doing that!), I would say that I was afraid. I was afraid of public failure, as much as anything, because the writing life is nothing if not loaded with criticism, judgement, and rejection. Which feeds doubt. And any success was never quite enough to counter that. I felt like I was the embodiment of an elaborate ruse, or dressed in someone else’s clothes, or wearing a mask. I don’t feel like that anymore. You know …. so be it. I’m a writer. It’s not a big deal. It’s just what I do. And I honestly think that blogging about it helped get me to that point–over the mountain of fear, into a pleasant valley of normalcy. If you give me a compliment now, I’ll just say “Thank you.”
Which brings me to the blog posts that I removed. Both were confessions, of a sort. Confessions of failure and doubt. Something about them–their confessional nature? their tone? their introspection? (yes, more than usual)–made me feel naked. Not naked in body, but naked in spirit. I do question, like a lot of bloggers do, why I am doing this. Why not a journal beside my bed? I’m very comfortable, now, thinking of my blog as a family scrapbook, as a record of our mundane ordinary every days which would otherwise blur together and be lost in memory. I’m even comfortable thinking of my blog in a professional sense as an extension of my work, and a place where I can talk about my writing life. But am I comfortable getting spiritually naked online? Does it serve any purpose? What am I looking for?
I question my motivation. And I question it enough to remove those posts permanently. There are a (very) few people in my life with whom I’m most intimate, and with whom I might naturally share the progressions and failures of my spiritual life. Does sharing it in a somewhat anonymous way online bring me closer to people I might not otherwise connect with or get to know? I consider that. But it’s (mostly) a one-sided relationship, online. It’s like undressing in front of a window at night; seeing your own reflection and not seeing who might be walking by the street below. You can see how my thinking loops round and round on this point. I don’t think I’ve nailed the right answer, it’s more that I don’t want to do something that makes me feel this uncomfortable.
So, for now. I’m staying (mostly) clothed. In spirit. You know what I mean.
:::
Yesterday’s yoga class was wonderful. Following the difficult class on Monday, it was also a relief. My brilliant thought-of-yesterday’s-class was: My body is my emotional barometer. It’s taken me 35 years to figure that out. And yoga is like taking a stress-test. It’s an instant read thermometer. I know almost immediately whether my mind is calm or stirred, whether I am comfortable with the choices I’ve made that day, or whether I have some work to do. And sometimes the work gets done right there in class, and I emerge at the end with an unexpected thought or perspective, more open to the world. And that’s when I’m most likely to come home and write a blog that the next day makes me ask: should I close the curtains?

Spirit

That’s my word of the year. It came to me in a blink, in fact just the day before Nina and I met to discuss our choices, and was not the word I’d originally tossed around. But it just felt right. I’ve been reflecting on the repetition inherent in my work and my life. Each day I complete many of the same tasks I’ve completed yesterday, and which I’ll do again tomorrow. There is a comfort and joy in repetition, and in the patterns these create, but there is also … well … the potential for boredom, stagnation, even a craving for something, anything, new. Change comes to us all, and is as constant as the laundry. But it isn’t always obvious or easily recognized. Sometimes I want to seek it out; and that can be good (how else would I have gotten to be a doula last year?); but sometimes I need to throw my letters in bottles out to sea and just wait, going about my daily tasks. I need to accept that change will happen when it happens, and some change cannot be forced. I need patience.

The work that I choose to do (writing, right now) comes with a dark side–rejection, fear, self-doubt. When those dark moments crash over me, my response has often been (temporarily) to ask: why bother? Why not find something else to do with my life?
As if doing something else were the only answer. As if something else wouldn’t come with its own template of unique sacrifices, its own potential for rejection and failure.
It’s occurred to me just recently that there is another answer. The answer is to be strong in spirit.
I’m still exploring what that means, concretely, for me. So far, I believe that the pathway to my spirit is through my body, which probably sounds obvious, but I mean that when my body is engaged physically it is easier for my self to find its presence/absence. (There’s some mystery here that I can’t put into words: how presence begets absence).
Do I have access to the divine? I’m not sure it matters to me much whether that question has a quantifiable answer. I believe that I do. Anyone does. I believe it.
Here’s a short-list of what strengthens my spirit (that I’ve discovered so far, anyway): prayer; making music; writing; cooking and eating; yoga; friendship; family; attending at a birth; horses.
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I’m hesitating about posting this. Spirit is hard to talk about without sounding flaky, and maybe over-serious. But okay. I’m going to risk sounding flaky. I’m going to hit “publish post.” Any minute now.

Something I’ve Been Thinking About

I am drawn to two quite different lives. On the one hand, I greatly admire those obituaries which describe people whose lives have been filled with several quite different and remarkable chapters. These people seem able to make leaps, to change direction, to re-invent themselves. It seems a dangerous way to live, yet also very rich, especially for people born with a variety of gifts and abilities. On the other hand, I also greatly admire those rare individuals who devote themselves entirely to one pursuit, to the exclusion of all else. These people may not have the same variety of experiences, but within that one deeply studied area they find something else: the universal truths contained in the intimately known particular. And they have the particular itself.
As I write this thought out, however, I feel slightly less compelled by either version. I am afraid that a life with too many plunges and abrupt turns would be rootless, restless. I am afraid that a life devoted to one pursuit would be lonely, isolating.

I am in the sort of mood, lately, in which everything I read, every scrap of insight that rises from the page and enters my brain, I take for grace. I take as a message. I take as guidance, as insight, as direction.
Must be because I’m seeking direction.
I want to think that I’m seeking it intelligently, open to everything that comes along, even if it creates internal dissonance; but it occurred to me tonight that I am finding it randomly, excited by any scrap that looks and sounds like the real thing. I should offer an example. I was just now up in bed reading Somewhere Towards the End, by Diana Athill, and came across her description of a friend whose existence had been consumed and in some sense wasted by the two loves of her life: a married lover, and the mother she’d cared for till death. But the woman, though old and now alone, did not behave as if the two loves of her life had emptied it out; and Diana Athill believed that was because her friend was also an artist. She had the ability to create something, and that had rescued her from emptiness.
I sat up a little straighter and thought to myself: I haven’t been properly appreciative of my own ability to create, and what that means (potentially) to my inner life. In fact, just recently I was thinking quite the opposite, annoyed by how everything that it pleases me to do is somehow related to creativity. Couldn’t I just have a nice non-creative (practical) talent already?
It felt like the universe was speaking to me through Diana Athill, through the random purchasing of this book and opening it tonight, and finding these words at this moment. What I’m saying is, this is happening a lot these days. And it makes me question whether the universe is speaking; it seems much more likely that I am hoping to hear it speak, that I’m listening extra hard.
But. It is also pleasurable to find resonances in unexpected places. It is good to be open. I believe that.
Maybe I should be looking for a third kind of life. A life in which many small changes, and several large ones, accrue over time to create a story that is both consistent (not scattered) and varied (rich). I’m so damn interested in people and relationships. I’m so damn interested in the minutia, the stuff of life itself. What can I make of it? What am I making, even now, and perhaps without recognizing it?
(But I do wonder, I do, why I am drawn to the intense and unpredictable.)

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