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Archive for February, 2014

I am a poem!

I think everything in life is art.  What you do.  How you dress.  The way you love someone, and how you talk.  Your smile and your personality.  What you believe in, and all your dreams.  The way you drink your tea.  How you decorate your home.  Or party.  Your grocery list.  The food you make.  How your writing looks.  And the way you feel.  Life is art.  Helena Bonham Carter.

“I am a poem!”  It is a bold statement, I know, especially in this weather, under the layer upon layer of Smart Wool and polar fleece, with thick-wintery socks stretched up high over snow pants, and a down jacket zipped to the chin.  In this winter of record cold here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in this bundled-up snow gear, in boots that are gravel-stained and ice-torn, how can I possibly profess to being a poem?!?  And yet, sitting on my living room couch surrounded by my beloved writing sisters, that’s what I wrote the other day.  “I am a poem!”  And granted, the words flowed through my arm to my pen and onto the page during a forty-five minute free-write in defense for the garbled scribble (I might even call it “shit”!) that came before it.  I was saying, in essence, that it doesn’t matter if what I am writing is making sense or sounding like poetry; what matters is that I am living and breathing and that is a poem in itself.

It’s true.  We are all poems.  Even during the most frigid three months on record, even when the cold hasn’t released its grip as February tips into March, even now, on this windy sub-zero day, we are all poems.  We live in these amazing bodies, warm-blooded light-filled intelligent bodies.  We think with minds that soar to the greatest heights even as we plod through snow and skitter on ice.  And there is a part of us even bigger than our ever-expansive leaping and dancing minds, a part of us that can guide these minds into thoughts that feel good.  And that is poetry, too, to steer our thinking toward the amazing details that are here before us, ready to be feasted upon, moment to moment.

In yoga, each session, while lying on our backs, we exhale our arms up to the sky and soak down through our fingertips the gifts of our day thus far.  It would be impossible to list in our conscious minds all of the gifts that have come our way in a single day, and yet, the practice keeps us mindful, reminds us that our days are laden with poetry.  And sometimes, the gifts are dramatic.  This past Monday, in the evening session, while guiding this exercise, my mind flashed back to a moment five days earlier, one that I had completely forgotten.  The Wednesday evening before, my husband Cam and I had flown across the Atlantic to Paris for a romantic weekend in the City of Lights, flown on a plane that was nearly empty, with row upon row of seats to choose from.  I chose to sit in two seats by a window, with room to lay my books and papers beside me, room to watch the movies, to curl up and sleep.  And there was a moment, the moment that rose up into my mind five days later back in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the moment that is now pressed into my being, that I will never forget.  While the other passengers slept, sprawled out over their many seats, I breathed in the soft sleepy moment and opened my window screen and leaned heavily against the plane’s side wall, peering out into the wide vast middle-of-the-night.  And there was the moon, huge and creamy and lit up.  It was as if we were flying along side of it, as if I could reach out and wrap my arms around it, and the sky, the sky was our sea, our sea above the sea, and the stars were the glimmering shimmering fish.  And this, this was poetry.

But what about the moments back here on earth, back here in the cold wintery weather, the moments that might not seem nearly as dramatic as a moment sailing over the Atlantic through a nighttime sky?  Aren’t they poetry too?!?  I sit here at my kitchen table while the sun streams in and the tulips in the bay window, candy-cane pink in their cobalt blue vase, are lit up by this sunlight, sunlight that is brighter and more intense than it was just a few days ago, and the drifts of snow behind them on the deck look like windblown waves and a goldfinch sits on a maple branch above this frozen sea.  It is a good moment sitting here appreciating this scene.  It is a good moment sitting here appreciating my life that is poetry.  And appreciating your life that is poetry as well.  And appreciating Joy Center that is filled with poetry.  Poetry sings in its walls that were built with joy-filled hands.  Poetry sings in its offerings, sometimes quietly in a yoga session, sometimes filled with the color of creative expression in an art workshop or a cooking class, maybe a class on the healing properties of chocolate, or an Out Loud evening where stories and movement and songs are center stage.  And during the month of April, our nation’s Poetry Month, Joy Center will celebrate these poetic lives we lead with several special events, including four different evenings of readings where we can sit back and breathe deeply and feast on the rich buffet of details that are laid out before us.


A Weekend in Paris

If we rush through life, we’re likely to miss the sweet moments that offer the only real thing we are here to experience: joy.  Ellen Yeoman

Every step I take in the light is mine forever.  Vivekananda

“We have all the time we need!”  I say it in yoga, session after session, and I feel it in a genuine full-bodied way as we lie on our backs, knees bent, feet planted in the ground, legs swaying side to side.  We have all the time we need, no reason to rush through the poses, to leap ahead to something that isn’t even present in this present moment.  I say it and I believe it and yet there are times that my days are so packed that I can’t imagine how I’m going to fit it all in and I often don’t and it never really matters anyway.  And perhaps it takes a weekend away, say a weekend in Paris, to remind a gal that what is true on the yoga mat is also true while living and breathing and moving through the moments and hours and days and years of a lifetime or two lifetimes  or three lifetimes or more.  “We have all the time we need!”

“It’s not long enough!” some of our friends exclaimed when we told them about this getaway to Paris that my husband and I had planned for the last weekend in February.  But it never seemed that way to us, this four-day jaunt across the Atlantic.  And perhaps that is one of the mind games that we humans can play to create a spacious life.  Cam and I  knew, for some reason, just knew that we were going to have all the time we needed.  We expected the two and a half days in the City of Lights  to open up for us.  And they did!  And frankly, even with this expectation, I was amazed at how they did.

Our initial flight this past Wednesday was set back a few hours, our connections messed up, and we didn’t even arrive in the center of Paris until the early evening on Thursday, and, yet, those hours on Thursday evening stretched out wide and slowed us down and glimmered with light and somehow we fit it all in, the list of things that we didn’t even know we had compiled.  We strolled along the banks of the Seine as the sun sunk down and the city lights sprung to life.  We stepped through the massive entry into the Cathedral Notre Dame and hushed our voices and felt the centuries slip away.  We wandered through the medieval cobblestone streets of the Ile St-Louis, gazed into the windows of the gray-stone shops, oohed and ahhed at display after display of candies and pastries and stuffed animals and puppets and hats and sweaters and scarves and shoes, each one, a magnificent work of art.  And, after a dinner on the Isle, we bought a lock from a young man on the bridge, wrote our names, “Helen and Cam”, in blue marker on the lock’s gleaming surface, clasped it shut onto the chain of millions of clasped locks woven through the bridge’s metal sides, tossed the keys into the gleaming nighttime river and kissed just as the young man instructed.  It was wonderful, this kiss on the bridge, this evening in Paris.  And the next day, there was more, the miles and miles of walking, slow and easy at times, brisk and spring-like at other times, a morning exploring the Marais, a noon-time meal at a cafe, another jaunt along the River Seine and through the grounds of the Louvre, winding and weaving and making our way over the river on Pont Alexander III to my favorite spot of all, the one that I’ve known my whole life, the Eiffle Tower.

And you might say, “Well, of course the time is going to open up for you in a place as magnificent as Paris!  Of course, life is going to be magnificent in this City of Magnificence!”  And I would say back to you that it wasn’t all magnificent, that there were moments of minor horror.  There was the moment, a shared moment for my guy and I, at the little restaurant of crepes, a place we thought we had remembered from our first visit to Paris seven years ago, that moment when we, hungry after a day of travel, bit into our buckwheat crepes that looked so good on the outside, only to discover that wrapped on the inside of each was an almost raw and very slimy egg and a layer of creamy canned-seeming spinach, and, in Cam’s case, a long skinny hot dog that was totally unexpected.  Do we still  have all the time we need when our food choices miss the mark?  When our life choices miss the mark?  Can we remind ourselves that there is another cafe, another bistro, another meal, another chance to get it right?  On this trip or the next or the next?  And, can we allow those moments when we don’t think that we’ve gotten it right, can we allow them to be perfect just as they are?  Can it become a highlight of a trip to laugh at the meals that disappoint?  At the moments that aren’t up to our feel-good standard?  Why not?!?  And can we bring this reminder home with us in the bags we’ve packed with the goodies of Paris?

And what about the two full days of getting there and getting back home again?   When a guy and a gal commit to a weekend trip abroad with the expectation that they are going to have all the time that they need, then the hours, the many many hours spent in airport lounges and in the airwaves better be a positive part of this experience.  We’re good travel companions, my guy and I.  We know how to charge through airports when charging is required, how to be silly when over-tiredness is begging for a deep full-bodied laugh, how to haul out the chocolate when a jolt of endorphins is the ticket to happiness.  We know how to play together and how to give each other space.  And all of these things came in handy during our weekend adventure.   And so did the sky lounges on either side of the trip.  Dare I say that two of our best meals were at European airport sky lounges, that the adventure of watching the Olympics from a European perspective in the lounges was a thrill?  Dare I say that it was fun, this time in airports and in the air, that we watched a movie together as we sailed through the sky toward home, that we got downright stupid in our silliness, that it’s with us now a day later, all the richness of this trip?

I do dare to say it, that we can we can tell ourselves that we have all the time we need, that our moments can open up, full-bodied and spacious and fun, that we can be gentle with ourselves, relax our shoulders and soften our to-do lists, that we can allow our days, the ones spent at home and the ones spent traveling to faraway lands, to unfold in ways that surprise and delight us.

Our first selfie:  Cam and Helen at Eiffel Tower: Paris, February 21, 2014

Our first selfie: Cam and Helen at Eiffel Tower: Paris, February 21, 2014

Quivering Seeds

Commit yourself to the glorious cause that excites you most.

Brigid is the force behind grand ideas and simple comforts.  She is direct. quick, enlightening and enlivening.  She is the shaft of lightning or the glowing candle that illuminates the world.  Brigid’s gifts lie not in what she brings to you, but rather in casting light on what you can bring to the world.  Michelle Skye

Here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with the temperature dipping down below zero most nights and rarely making it to double digits at mid-day, it might seem hard to believe that there has been a tipping point.  But it’s true; almost two weeks ago now we passed the season’s half-way marker, what the Celtic people call Imbolc, the time of growing light and quivering seeds.  I first heard about Imbolc years ago from my friend Ward.  We were sitting in my living room, the five of us writers, on an afternoon in late January during another especially cold winter.  “Cheer up,” he said gleefully.  “Only a few more days until Imbolc!”  Imbolc? “What’s Imbolc? ” the rest of us wondered.  Sure, we all knew about Ground Hog’s Day, how there were only six more weeks of winter remaining once the little fellow ventured out of his den each February 2nd and either saw or didn’t see his shadow.  What we didn’t know was that this American version of mid-winter was a remnant of a more ancient celebration of the halfway point  between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

On that cold wintery day many years ago, with much gusto, Ward proceeded to explain to us that the goddess Brigid, known as Saint Brigit to the Irish Catholics, reigned over this holiday festival.  “She’s the goddess of poetry!” he exclaimed to us, his fellow poets.  “Goddess of the fire!”  “It’s a powerful time,” he added.  “Pay attention and you’ll see that there are things awakening in you.”  Ward was lit up as he told us about Brigid, how she was said to make her way from door to door on the eve of Imbolc awakening dormant dreams and blessing the seeds that were beginning to quiver in our outer gardens and in our inner Selves.  And his enthusiasm for this holiday was contagious.  And Brigid — I think she was present lighting us up that day as well.  “Happy Imbolc!” we all cried as we said our good-byes.  “Happy Imbolc!” we called to each other as we began to pay attention.

And I’ve been doing it ever since, paying attention, as winter makes its way out of the long stretched-out January and into the short spunky month of February.  And although it hasn’t been a pre-planned thing, to purposefully choose this half-way marker as an excuse for exotic getaways and Brigit-type celebration, that is what has often happened.  I’ve found myself in the most wonderful places for this mid-winter holiday.  One year, the year of my fiftieth birthday, I was soaking in a hot spring in Yellowstone with my friend, Laura, in the early evening as the snow softly floated down from the wide-mountain sky, prickling our faces with its icy cold, while, at the same time, our bodies melted into the heat of the bathtub-hot water.  And another year, with my pen pal writing sisters, I was hiking up into the mountains, tracing the banks of another hot river in Rio Caliente, Mexico, finding our way to the river’s bubbling source.

It’s easy to see how the seeds would start to quiver when a gal is sprawled out in a steaming pool of mineral water.  It’s easy to see how the dreams that were fast asleep would rouse themselves when the bones and the blood in a gal’s winter-bound body begin to thaw.  But what about the other years?  The years that I spent my mid-winter Imbolc in coastal Maine with my elderly mother in her rickety draft-filled cottage wrapped in layer upon layer of polar fleece and smart wool clothing, or the years that I skate-skied my way through Imbolc’s passage on the groomed trails that cut through the brisk cold of the Upper Peninsula’s woodlands.   Regardless of outer temperature, the inner seeds seem to quiver anyway.  After I had become aware of this Imbolc mid-winter passage, I began to notice this inner quivering.  Not only do the days in early February grow longer and lighter, but, each year, something in me seems to grow lighter as well.  I begin to glimpse something new, something that just might be a quivering seed of possibility.  One year, the quivering seed showed up as an impulse to buy a new computer, and this seed-implusle sprouted into a more focused writing practice.  Another year, the seed took the form of a phone call and two airline tickets to Portugal, and this seed, a  surprise trip for my husband, has now blossomed into a yearly tradition of surprising each other with a Mystery Trip.  Yet another Imbolc season, I invited the first yoga classes into the not-yet-finished-and-still-unnamed Joy Center, never even daring to dream what would transpire in this space.  

It does seem that something shifts not only in the light but in ourselves in the first weeks of February.  And, I wonder, can this shift take place during a winter like this one, the Year of the Arctic Blast, a winter in which even we who are snow-lover-skiers are being challenged by the cold?  I think so.  I’m feeling it.  It happened for me a few days after Imbolc.  I was at our local library on yet another frigid afternoon, meeting with my friend, Lucy.  We do this each month, spend a few hours together, sharing our dreams and bringing each other (and ourselves) up-top-date on what is calling us most alive.  It was her feedback to my sharing that did it, that started the seeds quivering.  I had told her about the book project that I’m working on, how I am struggling with its form, and then, in a passing moment, had mentioned another project, one that combined art and writing and photos and was messy and would simply have to wait until this one, the one in the forefront, was complete.  All she had to say was that it seemed like I was more lit up about the project that was shoved to the back burner — and that was enough.  I realized that she was right.  I was quivering all over.  Could I work on two projects at once?!?  And the next day, a third project, one that I had been stuffing deep into a box for years and years, it began to quiver too!  What about three books ?!?  Can I nurture a whole garden of quivering seeds?!?

I have no idea how this will all transpire, no idea which seeds will firmly take root,  no idea how they will look once they have blossomed.  It’s not the season for end-product clarity.  It’s mid-winter and the days are getting longer and the seeds, they are in there, inside of each of us.  Can you feel them?  They are just are just beginning to quiver.

Helen                                 Helen at Brigit’s Garden: Galway, Ireland, 2013


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