What Is The Life I Should Live?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

“All through our gliding journey, on this day as on so many others, a little song runs through my mind. I say song because it passes musically, but it is really just words, a thought that is neither strange nor complex. In fact, how strange it would be not to think it — not to have such music inside one’s head and body, on such an afternoon. What does it mean, say the words, that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it? What is the gift I should bring to the world? What is the life I should live?”  –

Mary Oliver (from “Flow,” Long Life)

Two Muses … A Thought About Creating

Store Window, New York City, 2007

Store Window, New York City, 2007

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry


Holiday Wishes

DSC00564The season is moving on and the end of 2012, is not too far off.  Though September is really the month I consider to be my New Year, January is still a landmark time, in that the calendar begins its yearly cycle, bringing us back to the beginning again every year.

On January 1st, I set an intention for the 365 days that are before me, just as I will set my intentions for tomorrow, this evening, and on Sunday night, I’ll set them for the week ahead. Using this idea, taught to me by Debra Marrs, I wake up each morning, knowing what I plan to do for the day ahead. And though I may stray off course from time to time, it’s a structure that I can carry with me into the next day if necessary. Unless I am faithful to these lists, I would most likely arise confused and overwhelmed, trying to figure out where to begin my day, and why.

I do change things around as opportunities for a last-minute visit with a friend arises or if the cat gets sick and I need to take her to the vet. I simply put what I didn’t do today onto the list for tomorrow. The deal is to only write down three or four items to accomplish each day, leaving extra time to keep working if I choose, or to have a cup of tea with my neighbor, weed the garden, or have a cat nap. Those things, which I don’t consider work and often feel guilty about doing, are just as important as taking time to work on my memoir every day, paying the bills, and doing the laundry. They are the self-care items that keep me sane. I’ve learned over the years that without time to relax, I don’t do well. After having used this system of time management for a while, I now know just how much I can accomplish in a given day. I’ve stopped overloading my plate, and don’t feel rotten anymore, when I don’t finish everything I planned to do.

My yearly intentions are a bit different. They are just one or two words that I choose each January to accompany me as I move through the next calendar year. In the past I’ve chosen words such as trust, slowly, and open. When I’m feeling particularly pushed, I’m reminded to slow down and to trust that all will be well.  The word open, really helped me during a difficult time after my mother died, when all I wanted to do was to hide away and lick my wounds. Instead of sitting behind a closed-door, I left it slightly ajar. When I felt it was safe to leave the door wide open, I did, letting in the sunshine, a fresh breeze, new friends and interests. The lineup of these words grows every year as I add a new one. And they often come together like old friends, when I’m feeling in need of a course correction.

This year, I’m starting a few weeks early as a way of practicing before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve. I’ve chosen simplicity, as my word for 2013, hoping it will help me to keep my worst enemy, Perfection, from trying to take over. It should help me to sort out the idea of enough, as in how I perceive myself, and how much time I need to put in working on my memoir everyday.

I want my days to be less complicated and more productive.  I want to keep my goal of finishing a draft of my memoir by September 1st in mind, while finding a way to get it done without making life so complicated and difficult, that I’ll give up and walk away. It will help me to use the word NO, when the temptation to let it go arises, and remind me that what I want most in the world right now, is to write my story.

In the spirit of practicing simplicity, I plan on taking the next three weeks off from writing this blog. I’ll have extra time to enjoy my family and get lots of rest before jumping headfirst into whatever lies ahead.

I wish each and every one of you, a happy and healthy Holiday Season and a New Year filled with fresh dreams!


Living Simply

I thought yesterday was October first and here I am preparing for Thanksgiving.  Why do I feel like I’m living in a time capsule that moves forward at a gazillion miles an hour?

As a little kid, I felt time moved too slowly.  Adolescence was the worst.  All I wanted was to be grown up and out from under the boundaries my parents set up for me.  During my twenties it sped up a bit. But being the caretaker of two little people, I still felt pretty limited.  Once those little ones were in school, the pace picked up from that of a turtle to that of a hungry dog anxious to be fed.  Once Mark and Lisa left home there was no stopping the hours from rushing to the finish line.  These days I get up in the morning and before I know it, it’s time for bed.  There are never enough hours in the day to do all of the things I put on my list of daily intentions. It can be so very frustrating.

I want things to slow down a bit now, thank you very much and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Most everyone I know complains about there being too much to do in too little time.  While we whine about our computers being too slow, we wish for the time to take a nap, soak in a bathtub filled with bubbles, or simply lounge about, dreaming of what a real vacation might look like.

Today is my seventieth birthday.  It’s once more time for me to stop my craziness and think about what is most important to me.  Is it more pressing for me to spend my time and money accumulating more stuff and being seen at every community event? Or is it more important for me to slow down and smell the proverbial roses?  What about seeing friends for lunch or going for long walks in the woods or through streets crunchy with falling leaves? Do I need to go see every movie that is now playing at Charlottesville’s new fourteen screen movie complex this very week? Or might I stay at home, sitting in front of a fire, with a good book, snuggled up with my dog, Sam?

This past year, I seem to have opted for the long walks and the good book with sweet Sam at my feet.  And even though my pace is slowing naturally as I age, it’s not all that easy to stay in the slow lane.  If I’m running late for an appointment, I find myself swearing at the numerous red lights and the heavy traffic that makes me even later.  And if it’s too cold or too hot, I can easily find myself wishing that the season would move on and bring me more comfortable weather.  What I too often forget about, is living every moment as it arises.

I’m not one who is fond of this holiday time of year.  I do love being with my family and eating turkey with dressing and pumpkin pie, but I’m not happy with the consumerism that I sometimes feel wants to devour me.  Now Black Friday is set to begin Thanksgiving evening.  Will we now call it Black Thanksgiving? Those who have jobs in the big box stores that are so popular because of their low prices, are in many cases forced to work on one of the few days of the year that they have off to spend with their families.  A recent news report pointed out two women somewhere in California, already on line at their local Best Buy, so that they won’t miss out on the latest whatevers that they absolutely must have.

I could easily sit here and wish this season away, preferring it were March, and being able to work in my garden.  But where would that get me?  I’d have to skip tonight’s dinner at one of my favorite dining spots, and then hearing our local  symphony orchestra perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major Opus 92.  I’d miss being with my grandkid’s on Christmas day and most likely miss out on a snow storm or two that could transform my world into a fantasy land dressed in white.

It’s true that there may also be some very painful and unhappy days that I might be able to avoid by wishing life away. But if I didn’t enter the darkness from time to time, I’d never appreciate the light and the joy that surrounds me.

Today, I’m reminding myself once again, that rushing my way through life is not worth it. I don’t want to miss the smell of wood smoke in the air, and early daffodils poking their frilly, yellow heads out in February.  Once Thanksgiving is over, I’ll sit down and listen to Handel’s Messiah, while sipping a steamy mug of mulled cider as I write down all of the things I am grateful for this past year.

I’m convinced that I need to live more simply, being present in every moment.  Time here is too short. It should not take cancer or any other dreaded disease to slow me down, forcing me to finally begin appreciating the littlest things that I too frequently overlook each and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving Y’ All!
I hope you enjoy every precious moment.

The Clock

Big Ben

The Timex on my wrist, the old Seth Thomas clock on the wall that rings the hours, and the small, black electronic cube that sits on my nightstand beeping at six AM have been with me always.   They not only denote the hour and the passage of time, they have been the enemy. I have fought with them constantly.

Stop the clock. I’ve run out of time. It’s time to eat, time to sleep, time to feed the dog, pick up the kids. Time is short, too long and are we there yet?  Forever in a hurry, I was constantly running.  But somehow I was always on time or even early getting to the places I was supposed to be.  Why didn’t I have ulcers?

One afternoon while reading a good book and needing to be at an appointment in fifteen minutes, I caved in. Tired of rushing and feeling rebellious I kept on reading even as the clock ticked away.  I finished the chapter, got in the car, and drove to my appointment.  I was only five minutes late but I had been overwhelmed by anxiety on the way, thinking I’d be terribly late.  I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone, my stomach churned filled with a load of worry stones, and I didn’t know what I’d been thinking.

Like a drunk who finally hits bottom and knows that the sauce will kill him soon, I knew that if I kept running the way I did,  it would be the end of me.  I’d crash the car, fall off a cliff and/or my heart would simply quit because it couldn’t keep up. My life was a train wreckwaiting to happen.

Changing my pace has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  But somehow I’ve managed to slow the train, though it can still be easy to fall back into old habits if I’m not careful.  I do still have occasional overly busy days, but if I’m feeling overbooked I reschedule an appointment or two for another day when things aren’t so hectic. I’ve learned to say no to the one more thing that will tip the scale sending me into overwhelm and yes to breathing deeply and taking whole days when I don’t have to go anywhere but stay here and tend to whatever I want and need to do. I love those days the best and manage to get to my writing with time to spare for a nap, to garden, or read.  I still worry about being late once in a while, but I’m also beginning to trust that the clock does sometimes run slow and I’ll arrive in plenty of time without being frazzled.

I wrote this poem back in 1993 in the heat of my war with time.  I’m so grateful that battle is over.

The Clock

A tranquil pool reflects
As only water can
The confection of moon
Star lanterns
Show the way down
To the mouth of a cave

A tattered moth
Hands me her flame
Tells me to wait
Just inside at the edge
For a ferry to deliver me
To the middle of night

Aboard the vessel
The oarsman leers
With eyes that glow
In burning sockets
His mouth overflowing
Knots of squirming eels
I hold the flame closer
Easing my fear
A solitary owl hoots
At the sight of land

I am lifted to shore
By rigid talons
Left on the sand
Where a porcelain clock
Elephant high
Stands guard
Naming the hours
As they race around
An eroding track

The clock strikes twelve
Spilling sleeping cuckoos
Severed hands
Frantic numerals gather momentum
Left without time
Lifting the flame to possibility
I ignite the ticking sky

jzr, 1993