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Archive for February, 2013

Create an Event for Yourself!!!!!!

(This entry was originally sent by snail-mail as part of the Upcoming March/April 2013 Events for Joy Center.)

I want to know with every passing moment that I am alive, that I am conscious, that with every breath I take, there will be some possibility of growth, of surprise, and of complete spontaneity.  Alan Arkin

I don’t know why he popped into my head yesterday as I skate-skied my way through a mild February afternoon on a freshly-groomed trail in the snowy woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Perhaps it was because my husband, Cam, and I had just watched the movie, Argo, the night before.  Or perhaps it was because I knew what was next on my Sunday agenda, a front row in-my-own-home seat for an evening of extravagant gowns and nervous speeches and over-the-top celebration for Hollywood and the movies.  It was Oscar’s big night, and perhaps that is why he popped into my head.  After all, he was nominated this year in the Supporting Actor category.  So as I pushed off and skated my way up the hills and around the windy hemlock-hedged corners and back down again, as I skated and glided my afternoon away, there he was, in my mind, skiing right along with me.  “Create an event for yourself!” I kept hearing him say.

It was Alan Arkin who joined me on my Sunday ski, and, as, he whispered the words, “Create an event for yourself!” into my mind, he wasn’t talking about the event that I’m sure was on his mind yesterday afternoon as he slipped into tux and tie and made his way over to the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.  I actually heard him say those words, out loud and focused in my direction, six years ago, at an Improv workshop in Half-Moon Bay, California.  Although it was billed as a weekend of spontaneous play, as an opportunity to let go of those inner voices that care so much what others think, and, in the process, to let our spirits fly, although it was stressed that no acting experience was necessary or even helpful, the majority of the twenty people in the room were seasoned actors and this wasn’t their first go-around at the game of Improv.

And that’s what he was trying to tell me as I stood before him on Day Two, the day we were supposed to claim a time-chunk center-stage with whoever we chose to join us and to do something . . . I wasn’t even sure what.  It was during a break in the morning session when I spoke to him, told him that it wasn’t working out for me, that I didn’t know how to do this, that I thought I’d quit the group and try the surfing lessons offered down the beach, that I was scared, scared shitless.  With a twinkle in his crinkly eyes, Alan Arkin was telling me to lighten up, that it is all a game of Improv, this life we are living, and, it is up to us to create an event for ourselves, moment to moment to moment.  It’s up to us to have some fun. “You chose to come all this way for a reason.  I hope you stick with it.”  And I did stick with it, and I did claim a spot center-stage and I did end up feeling like I busted through something, and, dare I say, that there were moments that I did feel as though I was flying.  And I think the something that I busted through was that self-consciousness about what others might think of me.  When I let myself be “me” in the moment, a “me” in those moments center-stage in Half-Moon Bay that was silly and awkward and arms-flailing free, it’s fun; it’s liberating.

So why was I thinking about this yesterday as I flew down the snow-covered hills, a sweet breeze kissing my face, thinking about this as the people of Hollywood were getting all gussied up, as they were preparing to create quite an event for themselves and for all of us billions who were watching?  My afternoon in the woods was delicious; I created an event for myself that I will treasure as the winter begins to slip into the warmer days of spring.  We don’t have to hold our breath; we don’t have to wait for our Academy Award moments, for the applause of the audience, for the glare of a spotlight, in order to shine.  Alan Arkin reminded me of this as I soaked in the wonder of the winter woods.  Every moment is Academy Award worthy and it is our lives we are creating, Improv-style, event after event, from the inside out.

And perhaps, an event at the Joy Center, a yoga or dance class, a morning of meditation, an afternoon of art, an evening of music, a whole month of events celebrating the magic of poetry, perhaps one or more of these events will light your inner fire, will invite you to feel more liberated, to have more fun.  You are always welcome at Joy Center.  Happy Spring!

Handcrafted Life

We are important and our lives are important, magnificent, really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.  Natalie Goldberg

Thirteen hundred miles I would drive through the north woods of Ontario, through the city of Ottawa, and down through upper New York State, across Vermont and New Hampshire and into Maine, at least twice a summer, as I brought my boys, in their pre-teen and early teen years, to Camp Chewonki.  For half of those car rides, it was the boys who were the entertainment.  On the way to camp, they played card games in the back of the suburban, using the cooler as a table and the mini chocolate chip cookies as their gambling money, they told jokes, sang the songs that were popular among middle-schoolers in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and, one year, Christopher, in great drawn-out-longer-than-the-movie style, entertained me with the whole plot of Dumb and Dumber.  And, on the way home, a month later and a camp session wiser, it was kayak and canoe and hiking adventures and Minute Mysteries first told in their cabins at rest time and quiet expansive musings that filled our over-sized car.  Despite bouts of Christopher carsickness and cranky moments for all of us, I knew this two and a half day travel adventure was precious time with the boys who were growing up fast.

And I also knew that the time alone, on the other trips to and fro, was precious as well.  How often does a mother who is also a teacher and a wife get time alone?  I savored those long days of driving, sopped up the scenery, field after field of purple and pink lupine, wide sparkling rivers that I followed for hours, mountains, green tree-covered rolling hills in Canada and Vermont and the rugged granite peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountain range.  It was wonderful, the hours of quiet contemplation, and when I tired of the quiet and the rumblings of my own mind, I listened to tapes.  It was the mid-nineties, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes best-selling book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, was my favorite roadmap into the wilds of my own wolf-friendly being.  A Jungian psychologist and a master storyteller, Estes wove deep meaning into the stories and fables and myths that she shared, and, in the process, awakened something alive and vibrant in me.  I loved listening to her voice on tape, up close and personal from my driver’s seat in the suburban, as though I were in the front row and she was speaking directly to me.

I soaked in the stories as I drove along, the story of Seal Woman who falls in love with a fisherman and drops her seal skin to raise a family on land, learning, in the process, that life is balancing act, that she will wither and die if she doesn’t slip back into the sea from time to time, and the story of Bluebeard, that part of us that bops us on the head in our nighttime dreams and reminds us to wake up, to wake up to our daytime dreams and start to live them – and the story of the Red Shoes.  That was my favorite.  As I remember it, a little girl is tempted by a devil-like guy to put on these red shiny shoes, shoes that mesmerize her with their sparkly beauty.  And that’s all fine and good to wear sparkly red shoes.  What gal doesn’t want to sparkle with the color red at times?  There was a glitch with these particular red shoes, however.  They didn’t belong to her; they had a life of their own and they forced her into a frenzy, a frenzy of dancing and dancing and dancing, not in joy, not from her own inner spirit’s longing for movement, dancing as though she was possessed, dancing into a state of utter and complete exhaustion.

And it’s not the story that has stuck with me all these years; it’s Estes take on it, that we need to wear our own shoes, that we need to stand on our own two feet, that there are no short cuts to a life well-lived, no glass slippers or gilded carriage or magic potion that is going to carry us forward or lift us up skyward into something better.  And what’s the something better anyway?!?  I remember really taking it in, Estes’ words back then, that our lives need to be handcrafted, our metaphoric shoes made with our own two hands, our dance, unique and organic.  And I confess that, in the mid-nineties, I dreamed of fame and fortune, of leading workshops on the national level at my favorite summer camp for grown-ups, the Omega Institute, of writing books that were widely published.  I confess that sometimes I still dream of fame and fortune.  And yet, I knew then and I know now that fame is an illusion and that the handcrafted life, the one that Estes talked about as I drove along Highway 17 in northern Canada on those trips east, the one that is mindful and precious and really our own, that that is the life that is worth living.

And why am I thinking about this now?  It has been nearly twenty years since I’ve listened to those tapes.  And the kids, the boys, who sprawled out in the back of the suburban in their grubby-green Chewonki tees and told their middle-school puke jokes to me, their appreciative audience, are now grown men who sometimes wear a suit and tie.  It’s like that when you live a handcrafted life.  It’s like that when you slow down enough to appreciate the moments, the moments of skate-skiing along a newly-groomed trail and hearing the rustle of the oaks still clinging to the trees, the moments of standing next to your guy in your warmed-up gussied-up kitchen on a howling snowy Saturday evening as you both chop and sauté and create something new.  It’s like that when you slow down; you savor it all, the present nip of winter in the air, the fresh snow, your own ski boots, the ones that fit your feet and your life perfectly, and you also savor the string of moments that you carry with you as you ski along, the ones that you’ve stitched together, carefully and mindfully, moment to moment, year after year, with your own, your very own hands.

Grandma Annie, Chris and Pete at the cottage after camp: Maine, 1994

Grandma Annie, Chris and Pete at the cottage after camp: Maine, 1994

Moments of Awe

. . . I would be served well to remember this feeling, all the subtle moments of Awe!   Victoria Day

My ninety-three year old mother died a year ago on Super Bowl Sunday.  While the Giants battled it out with my mother’s New England Patriots, while Madonna, at half-time, sang her heart out, my mother lay in her nursing home bed, her hair freshly combed by my cousin, Diana, her hands still warm from my brother’s evening visit.  And I wonder if she heard it, the cheers of the crowds as the men barreled across the field, the way Madonna lifted herself above those crowds and sang, “Like a Prayer.”  “Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone.  I hear you call my name.  And it feels like home.”  Was it like an angel sighing for my mother to hear Madonna sing those words?  And did she feel herself lifted above the crowds in the hour or so before her body’s dying?  I don’t know what it was like for her in those last moments of body life; I wasn’t there.  I was thirteen hundred miles away at my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  But I think she might have shared with me a glimpse of what she was seeing during that Super Bowl weekend of slipping in and out of consciousness.

I knew when I left Maine earlier that week that I might not see my mother in body-form again.  And as wrenching as the decision was to fly back home, I knew it was okay to go, to let my mother go.  And that weekend, the weekend of Super Bowl 2012, after listening to my brother’s update that Mom was slipping away, it was all I could do to stay present in my body, here in Michigan, and not slip away from my own present moments.  It was skiing that became my savior.  I skied my heart out, two days in a row; for hours, I skate-skied along the Noquemenon Trail, from the trailhead at Forestville, up up up the hills, fourteen or so kilometers to County Road 510, and then back down the hills again.  I skied past the creeks with their running water, past the wolf tracks that led deep into the woods; I skied past hemlock and birch trees and the mighty white pines.  I skied all day, life-affirming hour after hour of being present with my arms and my legs and my heart, present with my heart that was breaking wide open.  And it’s hard to feel sad when you’re skiing like that, flying through those northern woods that you love.

And there was so much to love that weekend out there in those woods, so much to carry me forward, moment to moment.  It was mid-day, both Saturday and Sunday, when I pushed off onto the trail, and late afternoon before I arrived at County Road 510, so as I skated and skimmed back down the hills, the fourteen or so kilometers back toward my car, the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky.  And when I arrived at the creek and the hemlock forest it was as though the world was coated in shimmering gold; it was as though I was swimming through a forest of golden light, as though I was skate-skiing through a golden sea, two days in a row, through a shimmering sea and onward to the patch of planted jack pines, and that’s when the sky began to do things I’d never seen before.  For the last hour of the ski, on both days, as the full moon floated up above the trees and into the sky, my gaze also turned upward.  I couldn’t help it.  It was a show that I will never forget.  Clouds, more vivid, more delicious, more touchable, transformed themselves, as I skied along, from a soft creamy-peach, to a flaming fiery fuchsia that ignited the whole forested horizon, and, then, as if on cue, they changed again, this time to a gorgeous plum-like purple, and the sky behind the purple was the deepest, the most true of blues, the blue of my mother’s eyes.  And I knew, in those moments, I just knew that I was seeing the world through her eyes, and I was over-the-moon and I was up in those clouds and I was present in my body on the trail and I was filled to the brim with appreciation.

It was the kick-off, those hours and hours of skate-skiing through the wintry woods during the weekend of Super Bowl 2012; it was the initiation for me into a whole new ball game of how to be with my mother.  Someone asked me, this week of Super Bowl 2013, if I miss her.  And I had to really think about it.  Sure there was the time during the hurricane last fall when I wanted the flesh and blood version of a mother and I wanted her in the cottage that she lived in all those years, the one that is no longer standing on its flesh and blood legs.  I wanted to call her on the telephone, on a real telephone made of matter and I wanted her to pick up the phone and talk to me with real words; I wanted her to tell me about that storm at her doorstep in her voice, the voice that I used to know.  I missed her.  But that doesn’t happen often.  It really doesn’t.  In this new way of being together, I don’t have to pick up a phone or fly to Maine to make contact.  I can find her anywhere and I do.  I find her when I traipse through the woods that I love, when I sail down a hill on my skis and a breeze, fresh and cold, kisses my face.  I find her when an eagle, wide-winged, lifts off in front of me, right in front of me.  I find her in the sudden shock of a red cardinal landing in the winter pine by the feeder.  I find her when I hold my grandson, and feel her hands, her new subtle hands, on my shoulders.  I find her in the classical music that she loved, in the words that flow from my pen.  I just have to think about her and she shows up for me.

During the weekend of Super Bowl 2013, it happened in my living room.  All of a sudden, as I was puttering about, she popped into my mind.  “Mom,” I said out loud in this new game I often play, “Make yourself known to me!”  And at that moment, the moment that I said the words, my head turned over toward the window and the lamp that stands by the chair, and I saw it.  The bird, a shiny hand-painted glass ornament-bird, perched on top of the lamp’s shade, the bird gleaming in the morning light, the bird that I had not noticed before.  I have no idea how that bird found its way to its lampshade perch, and neither does Cam.  I’m thinking that one of the kids must have stuck it there weeks ago over the holidays.  And, in that moment, it didn’t matter.  It was a gift from my mother, from my mother who showers me with such gifts all the time.



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