Coffee

I was mocked for buying the number two coffee cone
Justifiably perhaps
Who needs so little coffee?

A six ounce cup is but a tease
Like pulling back a wind up car
Just until the wheels engage
It skitters forward but loops no loops

Indeed, for summer days in the field
Pulling weeds, pulling hoes
Driving trucks and agendas
The tall silver travel mug is needed
And the French press to fill it

But for today
A sweet sunny Saturday for not driving anything
My little number two cone is perfect

And my tiny cup
With a tiny cap of real whipped cream
Is just big enough to hold a low, lazy hum
That, in turn, holds me
On a day when small is not shrinking
But instead surrender

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Back from the woods

As some of you know, I made the first part of Spring Break into a solo retreat at a semi-primitive cabin along the Appalachian Trail in Northern Virginia. It was wonderful. I hiked; I read; I wrote; I sat; I built fires. I deepened my relationship to quiet, to cold, to the contrast of heat against cold. I let my mind run and run, until the running became not something to chase but something to allow and appreciate, like the rush of the wind.

I also checked out of social media, email, and the news during my time there. Considering the frequency with which I check into these things during my normal life, I thought checking out would be harder. It was not. It was a relief, a much needed re-prioritization that allowed calm and creativity to emerge.

 

So while I’ll reengage with email and the news, I’m going to limit my social media time to a breakfast-time window and an early evening window. Not first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and not during the “normal” nine-to-five workday.

 

Because as some of you also know, this has been a challenging semester for me. I’ve had a lot of academic success in my life, but in the second semester of Organic Chemistry lecture I’ve found my match. I’ve found a kind of thinking that my mind doesn’t naturally do, and having taken the first half of said lecture two years ago, “rusty” doesn’t begin to describe the oxidation state of my chemistry knowledge at the semester’s outset.

So I started the semester lagging behind my cohort – made of pre-med students and future chemistry majors whose handwriting looks like goddamn Helvetica font, I swear – and unlike most classes to which I apply effort, I have not been able to catch up. I’ve earned two consecutive D’s (yes, with the curve) on the first two midsemester exams, which means that I need two C’s on the last midsem and the final to pass. Or I need to drop the class.

 

That decision will be made in the next few days, after consultation with the people closest to me, whose support I would need in my refocused effort. If I go for it – which of course I’m inclined to do – I will need to minimize distractions during my workdays. Which augurs for the stepping-back from social media.

 

And even if I drop organic chemistry, I will be happier with a less jumpy mind. As much as I find mild enjoyment in watching yet another aerial-view cooking video involving canned biscuit dough, butter, and cinnamon, there are more interesting things to notice in this life.

It can be hard for we humans to be where we are. It’s an admission of our smallness, that our spheres of control are limited, that we are both tethered and cradled by place and people and past choices.

 

 

 

While I love the people in my life and am engaged in interesting work, there is still a fear that niggles in the soles of my feet that I Should Be Where I’m Not. That I’m missing my calling, wasting my talents, fiddling while Rome burns, pick your turn of phrase. That being just here, just me, just a person doing a thing, isn’t good enough.

But of course, being just here and just me is the essence of good enough. It is the essence of enough. I’ve spent a lot of energy refusing enough-ness – with respect to food, money, rest, love – and I’m learning that enough-ness is just waiting to give that energy back.

 

So. I’m back from the woods. I am ready for next steps, and different steps, that start exactly where I am.

 

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Before the march

The prospect of the march doesn’t make me hopeful
not eager for catharsis
for righteous rage

It makes me knotted
like I felt in church
when they gave me things to say
whether or not I meant them

Church was a business of so much internal translation
coding the words coming from my mouth
into something my soul could read

I can’t show up and say someone else’s words

I can’t acquiesce to the idea that my own thoughts aren’t enough
Because this whole thing is about being enough
Everyone being enough

I don’t elicit a lot of anger from others
but when I do
it’s for not being sufficiently mad

I am not mad now
I am other things, mostly sad
for the disconnection of good people from one another

I am conscious that in rejecting racism and sexism and all the ism’s
in judging people, as Dr. King hoped for
by the content of their character
we have rejected the people who express the ism’s

But people are more than their thoughts

Carl Sandburg was right when he said
that the ugliest word is
‘exclusive’

So how do we keep safe the people genuinely threatened by the ism’s
racism, sexism, classism
outright hate

Without descending into hate ourselves
based on ideals and ideology
not skin or sex
but hate all the same

We are better than that

We have to be better than that

And now I know what my sign will say

exclusive-sign

 

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A day of midlife birth

Today was my birthday. On this cloudy, drizzly, clammy-raw day, I turned 38. As of now, ninety-nine people have posted well wishes on my Facebook timeline. I feel the hope in their multiple exclamation points that I might drop my cares – or our communal cares – for a day, to revel in the love of others and the fact that I somehow *am*.

And I guess I planned to. Most of my recent birthdays have been spent soaking in such messages, planning my day around Exactly What I Want To Do, simply feeling the joy of living. Joy is, after all, literally my middle name.

But today I was assured that my path through this life will not get stale. Despite all intentions of finding a breezy, carefree spirit and celebrating with the absolutely wonderful coterie of people I get to call friends, I was sad. And lost. And despairing. And scared. And sad again, to the pit of my stomach, and ashamed for feeling so frayed on this ostensibly happy day, in the midst of a pretty damned charmed life.

So what’s wrong?

I mean, I could tick off the list of anxieties and hurts, but this isn’t a therapy session. That’s tomorrow, for real, ha! I’m in *therapy* and I still feel this f*cked up.

But if I’ve learned anything in these 38 years, it’s that pain is not failure. It’s a teacher, an opportunity, a shattering window at the edge of a growing soul. The shards were everywhere today, and pointy.

My last blog post was almost two years ago. Not coincidentally, it was my dad’s eulogy. It was the most wrenching writing experience of my life: propped up in bed at three in the morning, eating pear crisp with ice cream, because I’m my daddy’s girl. I wrote it; I spoke it; I felt proud and purified. In the following months, I grieved viscerally and, I thought, completely.

Then today my mom posted bday35a photo of her, my dad, and me on my 35th birthday. I was wearing the red Badger jacket my dad had given me, my eyes full of hope, my heart settled by the prospect of coming home, finally, after a thus-far prodigal adulthood.

It seemed forever ago, because everything changed after my dad died. I think I’m just learning how much. I’ve learned to operate in this new world, and not just operate but grow, learn, and love. But it’s still an entirely different place, and I miss my dad like water.

At a Plant Science Symposium last month, Dr. Dan Chitwood described the “fingerprint” of leaf shapes by counting the number of times the leaf body intersected a set of concentric circles. Follow me here: at the center of a maple leaf, there would be one intersection with a little circle; toward the lobed perimeter, there would be many intersections with a bigger circle. What was unified – all leaf – at the center would become fragmented into leaf and background at the border. Dr. Chitwood described the leaf’s “fingerprint” as the “birth and death of distinctions” between leaf and not-leaf.

And so our days are fingerprinted. Each is uniquely situated between birth and death, life and not-life, the beginnings and endings of loved ones’ lifespans and our own goals, identities, and relationships. The ridges and whorls of one day may resemble those of the next, or not.

Each day is ripe for the reading. The gift is in waking with ready eyes.

So while it was only intermittently and fleetingly happy, this was exactly the Birth Day I needed.

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Honoring Dad

Tuesday night, my Facebook feed filled with images of my dad. There were photos of him presiding at weddings, commiserating in front of Eastern European tour buses, installed at his desk among purposefully-stacked papers. There were photos of camp: kids laying on their bellies for a look over Rockledge cliff, staff dressed in their silliest for Thursday night dinner.

The accompanying statements thanked him for being a leader, an inspiration, a mentor. More than a few people said they wouldn’t be who they are today without my dad’s influence, or that of the place he helped to create.

It was a beautiful, spontaneous display of gratitude and grief. My dad loved his ever-expanding church-camp-travel family, and I’m so grateful to you who comprised it. He thrived on your energy and friendship.

I was also privileged to see my dad in his roles as son, brother, uncle, husband, and grandpa. Most of all, of course, I got to know him as Dad. Today I’d like to honor him as Dad.

Dad was rooted. This November, on a chilly, sunny day, my dad and I set out for rural Southwest Wisconsin. True to form, my dad had planned the road trip around food; we stopped no fewer than six times for the finest maple long johns, cheese curds, apples, lefse, pie, and beer the area had to offer. But in between stops for fortification, we took in the hills, the winding roads, the clear sky. The rolling landscape holds my dad’s boyhood home, my grandpa’s barbershop, and the general store where my dad held his first job. His love of this place – the land and the people it held – was palpable.

My dad was curious. This curiosity was channeled into many endeavors, but most significant for my family were our vacations. In my dad’s eyes, the purpose of family vacation wasn’t relaxation but rather motion, education, and fun. He wanted to open our eyes to parts of the world we’d never seen, expose us to people who weren’t like us, show us that the places we saw on TV were touchable. We visited historical sites, museums, rode ferries, took bus tours, saw shows from the Lion King on Broadway to a Don Ho musical revue in Hawaii.

We walked through cities like Chicago and San Francisco because that, he said, was the best way to feel their energy. We learned that when he said a destination was “just around the corner,” that was true…but that the corner may or may not be close by.

Traveling with my dad taught me to seek out the unfamiliar, to embrace difference rather than fear it. He was fascinated by people’s stories and our collective history as intersections of current events, personality, and values. We traveled so he could pass on that fascination.

My dad was a welcomer. At Bethel Horizons, he made a place for everyone. Everyone could contribute, and everyone was worthy of being in community. Everyone was indeed seen as somebody made in God’s image. This belief in unconditional acceptance was quieter at home – no repeat-after-me litanies were shouted – but it was unmistakable. No matter how messy my life was at the time, I was always welcomed home. Maybe I was worried about, maybe my choices were not quite understood, but I was always loved rather than judged.

Finally, my dad was a servant. He didn’t like to take credit for the way his work changed people’s lives. He credited the work itself, the fact that forgiveness is powerful; he saw himself only as a person who chose to put forgiveness in action.

In this attitude of humility, my dad has left us with another opportunity. Many relationships, opportunities, and connections have been catalyzed by my dad’s life, but they don’t hinge on it. We are all capable of being welcomers, of finding God’s image in others, and of choosing fascination over fear.

We have lost a leader, a mentor, a friend, a dad. But we are still powerfully and lovingly led. New horizons await us all…and they’re just beyond the pie.

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Resolution

I am spending this New Year’s Eve in, and it feels just right. I went to an evening yoga class with a favorite instructor, made sweet dumpling squash soup and a greens-apple-beet salad, and parked myself on the couch. And then got up and made my a personal-sized chocolate cookie ice cream cake, and then parked myself again, finally to write.

The idea of making resolutions strikes me differently on different years. Some years I love the forward pull of goals, of things I pledge to do every day, of the promise of transformation. Some years I don’t want the pressure of trying to better myself; I want to be right here rather than striving towards somewhere else.

This year both sentiments are pulling on me. The past few months, I’ve dug into the thought processes that have led me to eat too little and move too much. I’ve recognized that I both crave and fear stillness; I know how satisfying it is to quiet my mind, yet I resist it with twitchy Facebook checks and absent-minded nibbles.

Likewise, somehow, I both crave and fear motion. I love the feeling of gaining traction towards an endpoint – an exam, an organized spice rack, a scary and awesome vision for life after grad school – yet I find myself pulling back to the safety of…Facebook and nibbling.

So I find myself wanting direction, intention, traction, and yet knowing that in my mind, those good things lie a hairsbreadth away from obsession. I want to make resolutions, but more self-imposed rules are not what I need. I need strength, and rigidity is not strength.

I also find myself sinking into languid, decadent relaxation like I’ve never let myself before. I am loving long, heavy nights of sleep without the pressure to wake up for a workout. I am drinking whole goddamned cocktails when I go out, accompanied by charcuterie and cheeses and sweet potato fries. I’m learning how to do holidays like I mean it, with scratch pumpkin pie, real whipped cream, and Christmas brunch with four different baked goods. I’m learning to hang out with my family all afternoon without feeling like I should go for a run. I’m learning to let myself be with, rather than trying to keep separate.

I’ve learned to appreciate these holidays as full, rich, and literally grounding. More important is that I’m letting myself experience different states of being; some days feel big, heavy, grounded, full to bursting. Others feel busy, light, forward-moving, pulling me to sharpness and precision. Disorder for me, ironically, is seeking too much order. It’s choosing one feeling – light, sharp, never settling, always striving – and hewing to it all the time. A state of high performance is perfectly fine, but only in balance with a state of low performance, or non-performance. Strength comes from work, nourishment, and rest. I’m catching up on the latter two.

So, resolutions. I made a list of what I want from the coming year. Most of the items are conceptual, less concrete than a motivational speaker or life coach would accept. I have a few measurable action steps, like shutting down Facebook and email while I’m working, and I will play with how to put intention rather than force behind steps.

Resolution means more than just intention, though. It’s also the end of conflict, the state of balance after tension is released. It’s the place that motion stops and from which it starts; it’s the end of the book, before the protagonists get immersed in the drama of volume two. Like the electrons whose jumping and falling creates light, we need both a resting place and a place that induces reach. Settling is beautiful, but staying settled means dying.

I’m taking this New Year’s Eve to settle a bit, to take in the resolution of this year before the next begins. And I’m also putting my intention towards the kind of resolution that comes in photographs: clarity. My vision won’t always be sharp, but I can keep my eyes up so I don’t miss it when the clouds disperse.

So this year, resolution in a few forms: intention, rest amidst motion, and clarity.

Fewer nibbles. More bites.

Happy New Year, all.

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The Top Ten from the First Four

The week isn’t done yet, but so far it’s brought a lot that’s too good not to share. So, the good stuff:

  1. The most meltingly tender, flavorful, succulent chicken I’ve ever had, in tacos at this week’s Slow Food Family Dinner. I will be buying and roasting a chicken this weekend!
  2. “It isn’t about proving something; it’s about sharing an experience.” – Yo Yo Ma, on the reason that he doesn’t get nervous about making mistakes in concerts.
  3. Driving with a bendy left arm. So easy. So easy!
  4. Noosa yoghurt. Silky, tangy-sweet-just-a-little-salty, heaven in a bowl. Seriously, try not to die before eating this.
  5. Unconditional love.
  6. Learning why high density polypropylene is rigid, why beta-carotene is fat-soluble, and how tomatoes take on a chocolate tone. For all the weirdness of being an extra-super-senior in undergrad classes, I’m so glad I came back to school.
  7. People willing to talk about important things.
  8. Cool air. Fall feels good, and I think it’s even supposed to be sunny tomorrow. Um, or Saturday.
  9. Two killer chocolate chip brownies, from different bakers, in two days.
  10. Hearing my Grandma say as she hugged me goodbye tonight, “Life is just going to keep getting better,” and believing it.

TGIF, everyone, but more than that, TG we get to do this. On to the last three.

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