49 +1: Digging In

I’m inching my way towards 50 and in celebration of this fact, I have decided to post a blog on the 28th of each month until my 50th birthday. I like using dates as markers, little checkpoints, moment of time to create space to take stock and reflect and plan. So here I am, thinking about who I’ve been, where I’d like to be, and where I might be headed.

To do all of this requires a fair amount of digging. At the turn of the new year, I was in a bookstore looking at everything that was just released. Armed with a list of books I knew I wanted to read, I tucked it away in an experiment to just see what came my way. I looked at all my usual haunts. I started with new nonfiction and then paperback memoirs. I headed to poetry and scanned the bestseller list and spent more time with staff recommendations. Finally, I ended up at the table display of NEW RELEASES where I spied a book called Waking Up In Winter.  

I was drawn to it for many reasons. First, it has winter in the title, the season of my birth. Second, the title is disparate; typically, I think of hibernating in winter rather than waking up. It’s written by a popular self-help author and the very nature of self help means we need to be something other than we already are and I don’t like this in theory. I cruise the store and I can’t stop going back to the book so finally, I pick it up and I scan it. The opening story is about a woman who knows what she should do but is drawn to doing something else. Is this a sign or what?

I set aside my feelings regarding self-help and forget about the list of books everyone else is going to be reading and I buy the damn book.

I am not going to tell you that much about Waking Up In Winter except to say its premise was everything I seem to be doing now. The writer went back to her journals to see how much has changed since she started keeping them and how much has not. What themes consistently emerge in my life? Am I stuck or have I moved past them? Am I in charge of writing my story or am I letting someone else control the narrative?

I’m digging through all of this right now. From some of my earliest journals, little empowerment phrases are doodled throughout. “You can!” is popular. “Do it!” is another. I have always struggled with action and how to move from point A to point B. Usually, my pattern is to think long and hard and laboriously and do nothing. And then some opportunity arises and I don’t think for a second and just do it. Might I have saved time and made more progress if I just jumped in without all the waiting?

Time, of course, is at the essence of my considering all of this anyway. I am midlife, most likely over half way, and I want my next years, however many that may be, to be full of the richest stuff. As much fun and as painful as it can be to look back, mostly why I am digging is to see- what bears addressing? What is ready to be put to rest? I bought myself this key chain as a reminder that there is so much that no longer serves me. And I want to work on letting go so that I can make space for that which does.

Here are a few things in my brain that I am trying to release:

All thoughts about how imperfect my body may be.

And with that the anger that I put this at number one. I am going to blame culture and societal expectations that create this mindf**k for more women than I care to count. It has always been an uphill battle and I AM NOT the problem. When Big Man’s cousin Andrew died and a reporter asked his sister about him being the first gay soldier to be killed after the repeal of DOMA she replied, “Being gay is the least interesting thing about Andrew.”  

This has stayed with me and I feel it is is true with how I see myself. My appearance is the least interesting thing about me. This is hard to balance in the age of social media and really, just the years of ingesting what it means to be a woman of value.

Viewing life as a checklist.

Choosing to move with intention throughout my day no matter what is in front of me. I cannot avoid what I must do, but I can do it in a different spirit. This is really a challenge as a mother and a woman who has made conscious choices to use her time to serve wherever she can. I am rethinking this idea of what it means to serve. And how. I am digging around for more answers which just leads me to more questions. But I am up for them.

Living inside my emotions.  

I have an ACE score and this has profoundly affected how I experience the world. Through my husband’s work as a family practitioner and my own reading and observations and work with compassionate listening, I’ve made some progress in how I respond to what life throws at me. It has NOT been easy. In fact, I am astounded at how much more work I have yet to do. But again, here I go digging deep, digging in. I can see the payoffs. I can see, in little ways, where I have learned not to become the emotion but see it, use it, and let it be. This is the most significant part of my wellbeing.

So I think this is enough for January. I like having all of this rattling around in my head and heart. I can tell you that in the most difficult conversations I have with my husband and my kids and even with cherished friends, I still fail. But I am learning that I am not my failures. I can still feel their love. They feel mine. And that is what makes me continue to want to wake up during this period of hibernation.  

It's all mixed up.

I will reach down to the bottom shelf and grab a set of unmatched bowls that find a way to nest inside each other even though they technically don’t belong together. I will grab the one that seems best for the occasion. The large red one works well for a double batch of granola or the slightly smaller stainless steel bowl with a padded bottom is perfect for the whisk I use when I stir up some banana bread. The smallest bowl, a cheap plastic number, is for scrambling eggs. It doesn’t matter because sometimes just the act of reaching for a bowl is exactly what I need for my jostled and stirred-up emotions, when the mashed and mixed-up and battered parts of me cannot find a way to settle.

Next comes the meditation. Crack the egg, measure the flour. Needing more more time, I might even sift it. Stir. Gently, vigorously, not too long, or forever. It just depends on what the occasion calls for right? But no matter...the meditation happens through each step. Hide my phone, look at a recipe card, follow the instructions. Pour, measure, look out my kitchen window, sing to the cat who is watching from his perch, chop, stir, promise the dog a nibble when it’s done, and appreciate that I have an audience who really wants nothing from me but this...my presence.

It’s mixed up, messed up, and sometimes I want to give up. Sometimes I can get really mad about feeding people. Didn't I just do this? You are hungry again? I am mad AND grateful I have people to feed and the ability to feed them. It’s mixed up because sometimes it is the act of mixing that returns me to myself. Deeper breathing and an assurance that when I do this one thing another different thing will happen. Time and the right ingredients will create some sort of chemical reaction that adds up to making food and there is physical proof of my efforts. Except, and here's the messed up part, it’s not about the product. It’s another mixed up thing- it’s about the show I am putting on for myself. The doing this first and then that and having to pay attention so as not to screw it up. Sometimes I do screw it up but the process has already worked it's magic and I don’t even care (too much) if I’ve screwed up. I still sing and I pretend the cat is amused.The dog will eat anything, and the mess isn’t really a mess but a meditation that started when I reached for the bowl.

What I Don't Talk About

What I don't talk about is the tiny pinprick of fear I get when the phone rings and buzzes and pings to suggest clearly something is wrong. I don't talk about how relief sweeps through me when I realize those messages are not about my kid and yet my heart drops to the floor anyway because why? Why did there have to be some sweet girl so broken she saw no other way but through death? And I don't talk about how I've thought hard about how this could be my kid and how it will always be a fear that it could be my kid. The world I live in has taught me I must know it can always be me and mine and those I love dearly.

I don't talk about the deep sorrow, the one that seems to always be lurking and ready to pop up at any minute because it is November and the world has been dark and gray since last November. I don't talk about how the women are rising, hard and fast, though it doesn't feel fast enough. I am a woman and we are we are going to save this shit show. We are, but I don't talk about how long it's taking and how the world is losing so much at a rate that feels too impossible to count anymore and so I have stopped trying to keep track. I don't talk about how this feels today in this hour. In the next hour, I might be able to scavenge for a win somewhere. I don't talk about how I get through this hour to the next, casting about for hope like a wayward fisherman listing in the cold dense fog. A patient and bedrock knowing that something is there, and so he drops a line and waits. I have always been terrible at waiting, but I do have a bedrock faith. I don't talk about this because what is faith in a time like this?

I don't talk about how holding my cat on my lap is literally the only thing that provides warmth in these dark days. That and holding Big Man's hand. I don't talk about how hearing my friend's voice tremor in pain doesn't rock me the way it used to because the truth is, I am used to hearing people being rocked with pain. I don't talk about how pain is on every corner, on every street and inside every home. People carry pain of all kinds every day and still, I don't talk about it....not in a way that matters anyway. This is because, still today, there is a time and place for everything and there is no time and place for all this pain though I want to shout loudly and often, "Look! Here it is and there it is and what about this? Can't we all just agree to this suffering?"

I don't talk about the woman I know who unfailingly looks every single person she meets in the eye- head on. She stops whatever she is doing, gives the person in front of her the most solid five seconds and I am reminded that THIS is where it's at. This is the start of digging out of what I don't talk about. I look to see what is around me. The grey sky and the woman coaxing her toddler into her car seat and the guy pulling his neighbor's garbage can back to it's rightful spot simply because. I don't talk about how I know every kind gesture counts, but there are days that feel like they will never seem to add up to enough. I don't talk about it because who wants to live in a world without hope? Not me and so I don't talk about wanting to bat every positive chirpy platitude and suggestion of prayer and gratitude to the ground as if my life depends on it. The truth is sometimes I do not know what MY life depends on but I do know my life is linked to yours...and I don't talk about that.

I don't talk about how all of this sometimes makes me treat those I love most dearly most ungraciously. What is up with that? How can I be so dumb? There is probably some pop psychology there, and I don't want to talk about that either. Or maybe it's my hormones? I might like to talk about that, but you don't and so I don't talk about that either.

I don't want to talk about the bustling efficient people in the world who get things done.They are armed in clothes that match their winter wear, they have dinner organized, and their exercise is done by 7:00 am.They have had kale for breakfast and likely they have meditated, too. I don't talk about how I want to be those people, but I am not and maybe this is the real source of all I don't want to talk about. I don't want to talk about how I try and fail and keep trying again because in the end, there will be loss and maybe, just maybe, one tiny gain and that's it. I feel done with tiny gains, but if I am done with tiny gains then what? See? I don't want to talk about that.

I don't want to talk about how I want to love hard but when I do, it can hurt as much as it can heal and help and so I just don't talk about it.

I don't talk about the men in jail and how their stories are somehow tied to that girl who left us and she is tied to the friend in deep pain and this somehow relates to my losses and tiny gains. I don't talk about how my time is spent putting it all together like a puzzle with pieces that don't quite fit, but it doesn't stop me from trying anyway.