To Fill The Air

cicada dreams

Walking the dog, it comes. Out of nowhere, or somewhere almost forgotten.

If my words did glow
With the gold of sunshine

A song.

Out loud. Into this ordinary day, I sing.

This is the first time in months my voice has opened like this. It is not the first song, no – there’s always the radio, always mugging for neighborhood kids.

But like this? Just the day, the dog, and me? I am new all over again.

Continue reading “To Fill The Air”


The Things I Can

Follow the The Things I Can Adventure

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I was at a Dead show the first time I heard it. 16 years old. A circle formed at the edge of the stadium’s corridor during the drums-and-space jam. Undeterred by the revved-up traffic and whirling skirts, that circle was a solid, swaying knot. All twenty or so human links weaved in and around each other. I heard the voices in unison and asked a woman dancing nearby what they were saying. “Serenity Prayer,” she said. She repeated it for me.

Was it an invocation? Some kind of magic spell? It must have been if it managed to help a bunch of folks in recovery navigate the rainbow pharmacopeia that trailed the band in its transcontinental wanderings. Somewhere along the way, I memorized that prayer without intending to. It is now such a part of my cultural vocabulary that it’s as firmly planted as the opening of the Gettysburg Address and the entirety of Frost’s “Two Roads Diverged.” In fact, it barely registers anymore.

How deep do these lines run? Do they stay safely entombed or do they erode? It has to be a matter of practice.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of the right trigger.

I am standing in front of the mirror in a bathroom at work putting away my toothbrush, and I catch a glimpse of myself. The image is strange, raw, and dimensional in a way that a reflection should never be. I wonder if anyone else passes through these disorienting moments. One stays with me from when I was 10 years old. In the restroom at school in a dark rectangle of glass, I saw — really saw — the pre-teen girl who inhabits my story. Never had I encountered anyone so eerily familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Even through the haze of 3 decades, the memory is so clear, it’s like looking at a photograph.

Today, I blink at the middle-aged woman there and I’m floored by how striking she is. The year is still fresh, and her life is as big and messy as ever. On this bitter January day, the kid is home with Grandma. The dog is curled up in a patch of sun. Outside her office door, students wait with nerves jangling and questions firing. The day has been tough — it always is — and she’s been striding the corridors of her building, hopping in and out of meetings, sorting out projects. She stumbles and reaches. She risks. She chokes. She learns.

I know with startling certainty that she is powerful beyond measure.

Of course, she is a trick of angles and light. She seems solid there because she is standing right here.

This is when the Serenity Prayer comes roaring into my ears.

The things I cannot change. The things I can.

The difference.

The words roll through me. On their heels come unfixed wishes, urgent questions. Of the many needs that motivate me — finances, fitness, art, relationships, my son’s well-being — what is within my control? What isn’t?

All day, situations I can’t anticipate spring up from the earth or tumble down from the branches above. It’s a surprise every time. A jumble of thoughts and feelings determine my response, and I’m usually at the reaction point — avoidance or recoil — before I even register what got me there. Fear can feel like an actual physical lash, tightening around my chest, constricting breath and vision and eventually freedom of movement. When I slow the tape down enough to identify the frames, they say something like This is too big for me, or I don’t have what it takes, or I don’t have time. The crushing sense of despair intensifies. I feel overwhelmed, tight, tired, frightened. I call the task a “challenge” or an “opportunity,” and try to will myself to face it. The fact is, I’m half a mile past the point where I judged it to be large and unwieldy, and shouldered it anyway. I experience it as a burden without stopping to catalog the contents.

It can seem like 100 of these chores strap themselves to me every day, and inside each, 100 obstacles. I am Grimm’s Drummer at the lake, and the thimble is rusting in my hands. Meanwhile, the woman in the mirror blinks back at me. She’s got something figured out:

Every moment contains the things I can’t change and the things I can.

The trick is finding the difference. When I pause to sort situations into their appropriate piles, I only need to pick back up the work that falls to me. The rest I can leave. This is more radical than it sounds. Accepting it means stepping out of the vortex of complaints and self-doubt, and actually taking small, significant steps forward. Courage is required. Any “thing” I dare claim as mine to change contains discrete, manageable tasks. The skills to complete each of those tasks are within reach. It is up to me to do the reaching and the completing.

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Accept, Change, Know

For this fleeting moment in the office ladies’ room, my mind is awake the way it is when I pause at a break in the trees on a Shenandoah ridge. One option is to kvetch, “None of the wildflowers are blooming, and my pack is chafing, and man are those cicadas ever going to shut up?” Instead, the high-altitude approach calls for noticing one brilliant slice of earth and sky. For a moment today, my gaze lands where my heart must have known all along it could: On me, a bright woman at the start of a new year, in sync with a vibrant, changeable planet.

In the spirit of the Happy 100 Days Project, I begin 2015 with a commitment to seek out small, enriching habits. The aim is to name choices that are in my power to make, choices that will allow me to walk in the skin of the woman I glimpse today.  Instead of 100 chores and 100 obstacles, this project is to notice 100 Things I Can.

Here I will gather up powerful crumbs and write about them. Like that circle of dancers, this will be a chance to step out of oncoming traffic and call upon strong, simple truths. I’ll begin here to sort out the things I can change.

Maybe, too, other Things I Can will emerge. Things I can cultivate. Appreciate. Learn. Things I can shed. Things I can nurture.

Things I can inhabit.

Things I can live.

You Know All the Rules By Now

Well the first days are the hardest days
don’t you worry anymore

When you’re sixteen and you pick up lice from camping out at a Dead show, you and your girlfriend walk by the People’s drug store on the way home from school. You set up chairs out on the porch in the afternoon sun, pop a bootleg in the boom box, and gossip as you comb nits from each other’s hair.
‘Cause when life looks like Easy Street
there is danger at your door

When you’re forty and you pick up lice from your son’s first grade classroom, you leave two dozen unchecked emails in your inbox, cut out of work early (again), speed over to the CVS, and race to catch the train then the bus. On the way, you send messages to your son’s dad about all the things he needs to do to treat his place. You ignore the afternoon sun and rush into your condo, making a mental note of all the places your boy had his head during the past five nights he spent with you.
You strip beds, pull coats from hooks, peel covers from the sofa, corral a menagerie of stuffed animals. You curse the dollhouse washer/dryer that reaches capacity at three pillowcases. You wheel the vacuum around the mountain of fabric and upholstery and giant fluffy penguins now climbing towards the ceiling.
You bag up all the pillows. You push two loads through. You boil water to sanitize the hairbrush.
Then you storm through the living room
and stop
Goddamn, well I declare,
have you seen the like?

by the sliding glass door.
The dog stirs and glances up. You look out for the first time at the fading light. It is daylight savings time. The day has hung on for you. Just barely, though. You have 30 minutes left to fling yourself out and grab her before her fingers slip free.
Anybody’s choice
I can hear your voice

You lash your lice-infested tresses into a lice-infested elastic, put on the lice-infested hoodie you wore last night, and go run three hard miles with the setting sun at a heel on your left flank.
You come panting back inside. The dog pushes up against you as overjoyed as she has been every time you’ve walked in that door for the whole eight years of her existence. She doesn’t know you have lice and wouldn’t care even she did.
Now, you can see.
Like the morning sun you come
and like the wind you go

How your son is in the best hands now because his father is the same man who used to sit and brush your hair with such gentle strokes, you felt like you’d been carried off on a magic carpet ride. How your water pours hot from the new heater you just installed. How the juice surges from every outlet to lamp, dryer, vacuum, stove. How the bed is soft and the sleep is sound and the lock is solid and the mortgage is covered and the shelves in CVS and kitchen alike are stocked with everything you could ever need and more than you ever will.
How you and your son’s dad and called each other and spoke easily about how to tackle a shared concern.
How your Mister got on the horn and told you to tell your boy that Thomas Jefferson had lice.
Come on along or go alone
You notice how very rare and undeserved this abundance of resource for this small a problem.
He’s come to take his children home.
When you’re here today and you pick up lice from a spot on this teeming planet, you strip down to your skivvies, squirt eye-watering insecticide shampoo into your hair, crank up Daddy Yankee and boogie as you comb the nits from your hair.

Butchered lyrics are from the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.”

Happy 100 Days: 4

It takes me six days to work my way up to looking at the gift. On the DVD, he has hand-written “Merry Christmas,” and “Love.” I know it is photos. I can’t bring myself to take it to Texas, so it is waiting for me under the tree when I return.
“Have you watched it yet?” He asks.
We are not supposed to be talking. After dozens of half-hearted attempts, we said a final goodbye before Christmas. Still, it is never easy to walk away when there no one has inflicted harm. The reasons are real yet vague. On even days, we understand it cannot work. On odd days, we are each the solace and the best friend.
“So, have you?”
“No, I have not found time.” Which is not true. I have willfully forgotten the presence of the gift under the tree. Even when I sit right there in the living room, I cannot see it.
Against our better judgment, he comes to the house. He carries a sack of take-out kabobs and an uncertain smile. He sets the table and I fill the water glasses. We eat buttery rice and talk all the way around topics we have agreed to ban from this intercut. Instead, we make a show of getting re-acquainted. It feels like a first date (or the first after a long drought).
We make a show of discussing everything non-us. We chat. It is very civilized. This is how we break the chokehold of unanswerable questions. This is how learn the true scope of the narrative.
This is how we write it.
After we finish dinner, he helps me make the hummus and marble cake for tomorrow’s party. He forgoes the electric beater and asks for a whisk. The butter and sugar whip to a froth and he adds the eggs one by one. Vanilla. Sour milk. In the top of a double boiler, chocolate melts. I let him taste from the spatula. We both lick the spoons.
I make two small cupcakes so we can have something sweet for ourselves.
Then, he takes me to the living room and turns the lights low. The Christmas tree is still bright. “Enough stalling. We’re watching this tonight,” he says.
“Okay.” I plop down on the couch. He gets the DVD player up and running. And then, there it is. “This is our past,” the screen tells me. The Grateful Dead kicks in and the familiar pitch of Jerry’s voice sings the opening strains of “Scarlet Begonias.”
As I was walking ’round Grosvenor square. . .
Then the photos roll. I recognize the first few and then I see some I do not remember him taking. Our first walks. That first morning he dropped me at work. The first time I met his family when we went to sing karaoke on his cousin’s birthday at a bar west of town. Him there, goofing and laughing. Me there, flirting and singing.
I knew right away she was not like other girls.
Me, making an acorn mosaic on a rock in Shenandoah. Us, raising our glasses with our friends at a winery. Bug as Harry Potter at Halloween when he was still so little, his hair dyed brown and those big glasses sliding down his nose. Drinks at the bar of that awful, crowded Thai restaurant where the meal took two hours to arrive and we were so hungry, we ate the soggy maraschino cherries out of our mai tais for sustenance. Bug playing legos on the blanket Giovanni hammered into the ground for him at our campground. Family parties, guitars, line dancing. My birthday balloons. His birthday hike. Me balanced on the side of a fountain. Him balanced on the top of a mountain. Us standing in the blustery night, bright-cheeked before the National Christmas Tree.
I had one of those flashes I’d been there before, been there before.
The music changes. The photos spool on.
We are a couple. I understand this now. He is more than some in-between fling. This is not “dating after divorce.” He is real, as he has been telling me for over a year. We are something substantial. Whether we leave it or keep at it, we are far more than just an idea. We are two people with a shared history. The pictures capture so much of it. Some are melancholy. Some of the images precede or coincide with white-hot arguments we both recall. Much of our past, though, is just plain old happy.
As for the rest? I don’t know. The DVD ends with a video he captured one night when we were in his house eating cookies he had just made. We are talking sweet, melty cookie talk to the camera. I am chattering on without realizing he is taking video. Near the end when I realize it is being recorded, I burst out laughing.
The image fades to this: “Our future is unwritten. . .”
We have nearly a year and a half behind us now. We have said goodbye, yet here he is, holding my hand on the living room couch in the glow of the tree.
He says, “I have never fought this hard for a woman before.”
I say, “I hope I’m worth it.”
He chuckles. “Yeah. Me, too.”
He leaves for the night but we do not say goodbye. We are not disposable. Something different than what I intended has happened here.
I have no idea who this Us is. We are just meeting now for the first time.
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.