Snapshots

This past week, I went on a 5 day vacation with my parents to Wisconsin.  In total, we drove over 1100 miles.  The following are “snapshots” of our drive to and from America’s Dairy Land.


Carl Sandburg’s Birthplace and “Remembrance Rock”:

We arrived in Galesburg, Illinois to see the birthplace, and the final resting place, of one of my favorite poets of all time:  Carl Sandburg.  Son of Swedish immigrants, the small home was situated on a small lot in a working class neighborhood near a park, railroad tracks, and a factory.  I think he would approve that he was amongst the very people whose language, life, dreams, and beliefs he captured so honestly in his poetry.  Unfortunately, the visitor’s center was closed, so I didn’t get to go inside the home.  My dad and I, however, walked to the well-manicured back lawn and walked around the large boulder known as “Remembrance Rock” under which Sandburg’s ashes, along with his wife’s, and two of his three daughter’s lay buried.  Around the boulder were stepping stones that led to shade trees and a white iron bench.  On every other stone was a quote from his poems such as “Cornhuskers,” and “Baby Faces,” and “Harvest Poems.”  My dad and I walked and read every single one, calling out our favorite quotes, and pausing to take in the simplicity and depth of his words.  They drew me in and made me feel like I was closer to not only the poet, but that I was really tapping into the power of words and what they can make you feel, instead of think.  Some of my favorite quotes on the stones were:  “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on” and “Nothing happens unless first a dream”, and finally, “I rest easy in the prairie arms, on the prairie heart” (which made me want to spend the night outdoors under the stars).

The Mother of Storms

On our way to the Quad Cities, we got trapped in a storm that made me rethink wanting to rest in the prairie arms for the night.  The sky turned a fierce gray, punctuated with lightning.  Then came the pelting rain. I grasped the door handle as my Dad’s Ford F-150 pickup truck started to slide slightly to the right.  I could see the muscles in my Dad’s arms tense and saw the tightness in his face as he was trying to keep us on the interstate.  I looked to my right, to see if there was any possible exit route, or at the very least, an open field that we could lay in if we got flipped over and had to escape  before lightning struck us.  All I saw was the rushing river to my right, and nothing but gray shapes of cars, trucks, and hills to my left.  After a little bit of controlled yelling by myself and my mom, my dad finally found an exit, and long story short, we sat it out in a Wal-Mart parking lot.  Ah, Wal-Mart.  I hate you, but I love you for the familiarity of weathering a storm inside your immense gray parking lot.  I also am grateful that the bag of chips, M & Ms and other munchies that I bought for us later were on roll-back prices.  Urban sprawl has its perks.

Jackpot

After a few more hours of passing through bucolic scenes of rolling hills, blue skies, and red barns in the Ford pickup (all while listening to classical music), we rolled into to Dubuque, Iowa later that evening.  Touring Dubuque, a quaint city with hills that give San Francisco a run for its money, we searched for food.  We passed by local, charming restaurants in the historic downtown, sailed past the McDonald’s and Arby’s, and parked the truck in the Casino parking lot where we walked in, found a deli in the greyhound racetrack area, and ate a stale turkey sandwich with processed cheese and Ocean Spray strawberry-kiwi juice.  What the casino lacked in fine-dining cuisine, it made up for in the penny slots.  I came out $10 ahead.  Can’t say the same for Mom and Dad.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Taliesin” in Spring Green, WI

All FLW lover’s beware:  all is not what it seems to be.  The architecture is still amazing, the scenery is glorious, the views are spectacular, but the buildings such as the architecture school Wright had designed when he was 19, his home “Taliesin” he built about 100 years ago, and rebuilt, and reworked, and redesigned up until his death in 1959, and the surrounding grounds are run down.   We spotted a few trees growing from the moss-covered shingles at the Prairie School of Architecture and Design that is still a functioning architecture school.  And the landscaping was all weedy and in disarray.  Not to mention that you could tell, in the very Asian inspired dining hall that the apprentices had bacon for breakfast.  Lots of bacon.  We left the building smelling like…bacon. In his home, we sat in the first living room, and we heard more history and interesting details from our tour guide, who was so knowledgeable and detailed in her descriptions of everything from the furniture to the flowers to the carpet on the floor.  I was surprised, however, to see how much plywood Wright used in the the structure of furniture, closets, and couldn’t believe that the house had been on fire three times, and each time Wright began his redesign within hours of the fires being put out and the smoke clearing.  Say what you want of the man, but he was brilliant in his knowledge of angles, shapes, light, function, form, and colors.  Though, our guide told us that if you were a client of Wright’s, he would have more than likely requested to design not just your house, but also your dishes, rugs, furniture, and had been known to choose the appropriate dress for the lady of the house when entertaining so she could become part of the landscape and design.  My mom and I both looked at each other and with a glance our eyes said, “No man would tell me what to wear and what I can set on my table…”  To say he was anal-retentive to the extreme is an understatement.  My mom said it best: “I bet he was so puckered when he died.”

Antique Stores, Trolls, and Insects?

Following the rolling hills, we made our way to towns like Columbus, where there was an 82,000 sq. ft. antique mall that was so full of mildew and mold that we didn’t last longer than an hour.  Making my Dad happy, I know. On to Mt. Horeb where the townspeople had a “trollway” in which  carved trolls greeted you at the bank, looked at you from the manicured lawn of a barber shop, and glared at you from the windows of a bar.  Passing through Madison, the capitol, we saw a car dealership with a huge orange gorilla balloon beckoning you to buy a car there, and sailed past a small “mom and pop” deli that had a functioning circus carousel outside.  Ending one day’s journey was a Lake Michigan drive from Kenosha to Racine (the armpit of Wisconsin as it turns out), and into the Racine Modern Art Museum.  The theme?  Insects.   There was pottery and glassware , and jewelry depicting some type of bee, butterfly, or beetle, and a small section of watercolors of praying mantises, moths, tarantulas, and flies.  Turning the corner was the dead bug installation entitled “Victorian Wallpaper”.  The artist had bought dead, exotic insects from all over the world and pinned them on the wall to create a monotonous flower shape that took up about 300 sq. feet of wall, and made me feel all itchy.  The itchiness continued onto her miniature town display (behind glass) of dead beetles in poses of drinking beer at the local saloon, praying at church, mourning at a funeral, and beetles being schooled by the headmistress.

On the top floor was the featured artist and her collection of work entitled “The American Cockroach”.  My dad and I climbed the stairs, in search of mom among the bugs.  I turned right back around when I saw a video of a cockroach, on its back, in violent death throws.  Dad wasn’t too far behind.  We figured mom didn’t last.  Turns out, she was the one who filled us in on the display as we sat at the Perkins restaurant eating our turkey dinners complete with cranberry sauce, stuffing and mashed potatoes.  The artist had photographed “the deaths” of the American Cockroach in all its various forms:  one photo was of cockroaches in electric chairs, another photo showed them getting executed, while various other ones showed them in the guillotine.  Mom even said that there were photos of limbs, antennae, and wings, while another depicted a hanging.  Finishing off the series of photos was a cockroach, tied to a stick, and being burned at the stake.  I can’t remember if mom said it was a photo or video that showed the cockroaches being marched off, as if going to Auschwitz, to get gassed to death in the chamber that was in the distance.  Either way, I  puked up a little bit of my cranberry sauce.

Only in America can this type of journey be taken.  From the landscape, to the various places, everything is possible.  Where trolls, circus carousels, orange gorilla balloons are considered oddities, while photos of dying cockroaches are considered art.  Now I’m wanting to see what else this country has to offer.  It’s definitely a temptation for me to hop on the next plane, train, or automobile to “rediscover” America.

*Note:  No cockroaches were killed for the sake of art.  Someone else had already done it for the artist.*  ( Yeah, right, her assistant.)

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Fear-Me-Nots

“He loves me.  He loves me not…”  A child’s game we have all played by picking a daisy’s petals to determine our fate.  As children, we thought it was fun, but we also knew it gave us a sense of power; a chance to take control of a world that sometimes felt out of control.  Superstitious games of jumping over cracks on the sidewalk in fears of not breaking your mother’s back, making choices by playing “eenie-meenie-miny-mo”, and looking scared whenever you read the number 13 (especially if it fell on a Friday) are all parts of our cultural psyche’s addiction to superstition and fear.  10-year-old girls would play “Light As a Feather, Stiff As a Board” and swear to their friends that they elevated off the ground a few inches.  Then, after the thrill of that, we would creep into the bathroom with a flashlight, stare at the mirror and repeat over and over again, “Bloody Mary.  Bloody Mary.  Bloody Mary.” in fear of seeing the bloody image of Mary illuminate in front of us.  It never failed that either one person claimed to have seen her, or someone’s pajama shirt skimmed the knee of another girl, or a braided piece of hair was flipped onto another girl’s shoulder, and we would all run out of the bathroom screaming and swearing that we would never conjure up ghosts like that again.  Until, a half an hour later we were scared, and so we pulled out the ouji board. In school, we all participated in the “Who Will You Marry, Where Will You Live?” paper activities, and we were either elated or sadly disappointed when our choices became revealed through excessive counting of squares and letters.  “He loves me.  He loves me not.  He loves me…” This thought process and all of these activities were entertainment, but also a way to control our addiction to a sense of fatalism yo trying to attain ultimate control.  A place in our minds where we could tap into our fear of the unknown and explain it away by games.

My fears these days do not go away that easily, nor can their origins be fully explained.  I have minor fears like:  finding a crawling spider, or forgetting to record a NCIS episode, or trying to pop a zit.  (“How am I going to cover up this zit?  Dear God, it’s hideous!” ); to mediocre fears like my varicose vein on my leg and the blood clot I worry about getting again.  All of this before I get out of bed.  Once I start moving, my major fears and  catastrophic scenarios begin to spin around in my brain.  These are the “what if” fears.  What if my cat, who had an itching problem due to a flea, or what if my dog, who had a messed up stomach from eating cat poop out of the litter box, will die while I am away at work?  I won’t be there to save them.  Or, what if I never find that special someone?  The latest “what-if” is due to my 2 1/2 year-old nephew’s undiagnosed blood disorder, which causes him to bruise on almost every part of his body, and might cause him to need a bone marrow transplant as part of his recovery.  The “what-ifs” there are too dark to tap into, and so usually I pull myself back from the ledge before I look over the cliff and see how far the drop is.

Wanting him to be healthy is all of our family’s and friends’ desire.  If only finding out the truth of what he has, and how to solve it was as easy as plucking petals from daisies or googling his name and asking the question, “Will Ben be OK?”  But, it’s not.  Nothing is.  This is where fear can take control and have power over you.  Believe me, I know.  I grasp at half-truths and latch on to “well, maybes…” and hold onto them as tight as I can; yet, like dry soil clenched through a small child’s hands, I can’t hold onto them for very long, and so they seep out of my brain, and I’m left with facing reality.  Then, I do what everyone else does:  I try and find some other thought (no matter how good, bad, dramatic, bizarre, or off topic) and obsess on that for awhile before returning to major fear #1.  It’s not even lunch time.

Fatalism sets in, and I eat lunch, watch some TV, do a few light household chores, run some errands, and that seems to dull the fear for awhile.  It always finds its way back to me though, and it’s usually when I least expect it.  A thought of, “Oh, huh, I’m happy right now,” is immediately replaced by, “Oh, God, Ben had a bloody nose last week, what does that mean?” or “My dog just hacked up something, could he be having a seizure?” and I’m back to square one where I combat my fears and swat at their ghost-like shadows until they clear my mind for awhile.  Midday, when the sun is at it’s highest, I am in “control mode” and I begin conjuring the warrior inside of me and start scheming of ways to solve my problems (or others’ problems) and quell the fear that is driving me.  That lasts until dinnertime, when I slip back into fatalism and watch my taped NCIS episode.  Later, before heading to bed, I begin reflecting on my day and deciding on what was right with my day, who I helped in some capacity, what I learned, and what I want to give to someone I love.  I calm down and read a book because I’m not totally ready yet to face my nighttime self and re-enact my ups and downs and fears of the day through my bizarre dreams.  I’m reminded of the Moorish proverb that states “He who fears something gives it power over him.”  So, I try some type of mediation or calming breathing exercise I learned in yoga so I can release some of that power that is being held over me.

Yoga has been my saving grace for the past 7 years.  It has helped me deal with my anxiety and has recently begun leading me down a path of deeper understanding and compassion.  Yet, I still am scared and my fear cycle begins and ends almost the same as it does every day.  One of the biggest changes that I have made:  to let it happen, but not hold on to it as tightly.  My good friend Sarah, who is also my yoga teacher, recently told me to “Give it to God,” when I began to detail my nephew’s health problems.  I smiled, shook my head, and said, “Yeah, you’re right,” and then I said goodbye and left yoga class feeling pissed off.  Not at her, but at God.  (I was in “control mode” and the sun was shining pretty bright that day.)  “God can’t handle this one,” was my impulsive thought followed by a rapid mental diatribe of things like:  “I have to do something about it.  I need to get on the phone and call the doctors, search for second opinions, and I need to do something to help my sister (who is beyond her limit in the stress and fear department), and I need to take care of my nephew for a few days to help him heal and help out my sister and her husband, and I will think those positive thoughts, dammit, and he will get better.  Do you hear me God?  Do you?  Because I’m telling you, you can’t change up our lives and make us scared of all of this.  I won’t let you.”  Then, I walked across the parking lot, opened my car door, got inside, and slammed the door.

This morning, I sat in my chair, drinking my coffee, reading Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffmann, a yoga master, and realized that giving the problem over to God is a more rational, loving, natural idea then trying to act like a crazy woman in a straight jacket who is searching for the keys to the padded cell inside her mind.  Schiffmann reminds us (like do our preachers at church, and the Dalai Lama on TV and in books) that we did not create ourselves.  We are co-creators, but not the sole creator.  Is it not the same God that makes mockingbirds sing beautiful songs outside my window?  Is it not the same God that created universes as well as a simple blade of grass (which Walt Whitman referred to as being the journey work of the stars)?  Is it not the same God that put my nephew, only a few days old, in my hands and gave me the  joy of reading his first book to him which was about welcoming him into our world?

Mahatma Gandhi was once quoted as saying that “Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.”  My friend Mary, who is a wonderful, accomplished artist, recently told me that she has dreams, nightmares really, which are spurred by rational and irrational fears in her life.  She told me that she doesn’t write down her dreams or fears, but uses that same energy that is inside of her to create her art.  That fear is her power put into action.  She is prompted by the fear, but she is not consumed by it.  She masters it by creating.  I took that idea, and began this blog.  I also took her idea and am working on becoming more dedicated and disciplined in my yoga and meditation practice.  Last week, embroiled in fear and tucked into the fetal position on my yoga mat, I cried for  about 20 minutes over my sister’s hurt, my nephew’s health, and my fear of being out of control. I let the fear build up inside of me, yet I did something different:  I welcomed it in, knowing that it cannot rule me.  It can just pass through me.  Once that energy came, I began to take action.  It was the desire to understand the fear and go past it that made me begin breathing the deep ujai yoga breath and do lots of sun salutations, upward facing dog and downward facing dog poses, hip openers, triangle pose, standing splits, backbends, and a glorious Wheel pose and a steady and strong headstand, all the while dedicating my practice to my nephew.  I went past my fears, and felt joy.  Sheer joy of action and of breathing, and of living, and of giving my love to him through my actions and my thoughts. Only then is when I realized, for a brief moment, I gave my fears over to God.

Straight Up Liz Lemon With A Twist

How is it that a single, 34-year-old woman with no ties can be run ragged by others?  I question this all the time, and I’ve come to a conclusion:  like Tina Fey’s character “Liz Lemon” in the TV show “30 Rock”, I am the eye of the hurricane:  in charge of all the crazy people who come into my daily life, and also the one who has started the craziness in the first place.

Many women my age relate to Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City”.  I for one do not.  I don’t wear outrageous clothes (though, like my friend Mary once said, “Ya gotta go all out Liberace sometimes and pull out the crazy, weird outfit”), nor do I detail my every lesson learned from my wild, sexy, dramatic dating life, although I have realized that allowing someone to break up with you via e-mail is as equally as humiliating as Carrie getting the “post-it-note” from Birger.  No, to say that this Midwestern girl from a small town is “Sex and the City” chic is a huge mistake.  I’m more “TV and Home” and prefer the simplicity of my comfy jeans, Gap t-shirt, cute slip-on shoes, and hair pulled back than I do full on bling and designer shoes and purses.  Yet, as I type this the realization is that it is a little hard to avoid the grommet stamped shirts with wild colored prints that once looked good on Freddy Mercury, and shoes with belt-buckles on them now that 80s revival punk is back in style.

I like eating my turkey subs from Jimmy Johns or Subway, and I have been known to have food cling to my hair or dropped from my mouth as I’m speaking. Once, when trying to lock up my classroom for the day, I balanced my heavy books and shoulder bag on my hip, dug my hand into my pocket to reach for my keys, and pulled out a chocolate mushed set of metal.  Apparently I had forgotten that I had three mini-chocolate bars in my pocket the entire workday.  Without wanting to drop all that I  had in my arms, and wipe off the keys, I decided to lick the chocolate off of the keys, and then lock my door.  I thought I was quite clever until I walked into the office and my friend asked me what was smeared all over my face.  Carrie Bradshaw never would have done this, it wasn’t in SJP’s contract to look quite that stupid or get that type of laugh.  But, Tina Fey aka Liz Lemon, well that’s right up her alley.  And, like Lemon, I leave no time for a personal life, and I am clueless about men.

Truthfully, I thought I was always in charge of my personal life, but that I just didn’t get a chance to get what I wanted because I had to take care of others first.  I will stop what I am doing, regardless of how important and necessary it is, to help you with your problem, regardless of how small it is, and put out all the little dramatic fires that burn from everyone’s psyche on a daily basis.  Then, when it comes time to deal with my problems, regardless of how big or small they are, or if it’s time for me to eat, shower or sleep, if you come to me and ask me for something else, I will stop whatever it is I need to get done at the moment, and do for you.  I want you to be happy.  I want you to be taken care of.  I want you to want me, but you don’t have to love me.  You just have to need me to want to have to help you so I can avoid doing the same for me.  It’s easy.  It means I don’t have to deal with anything that could put me in a situation of getting pushed aside and forgotten.  Yet, when I go home to my empty house (and freak out if I start choking on a slice of orange or worry that I may slip on a wet tile when getting out of the shower), knowing that I will wake up and go to work or run errands and take care of others reminds me that I don’t have to think about not having anyone there to do the same for me.

And, yes, though Carrie Bradshaw was clueless about men to a degree, and had a self-concept issue, Liz Lemon is genuinely clueless about men.  She hasn’t had time to stop and think about what kind of man she wants or needs.  She just takes the most pitiful, puppy-dog looking guy with any weird issue and tries to make it all better for him.  Sounds familiar enough.  I’ve been on so many bad dates in my time, that I could write my own column for a major city newspaper.  But I won’t.  Instead I will tell you that I have been to the darkside of the dating world, and it’s not pretty.  I once dated a drummer in a band who was really sexy:  blonde hair, blue eyes who was smart, funny, and talented.  He could talk about poetry, and music, and novels, and then turn around and tell me that he walked by the store on Main Street the other day and he saw a giant eye staring at him.

A lovely mother-figure once set me up on a blind date with her son, and she did inform me that he was having a rough time with his divorce.  I was OK with that, but should have noticed the warning sides when we sat through the first half hour of our date with his ex-father-in-law (who he ran into at the restaurant while waiting for me to show up) who told us gruesome stories of killing a cat with rat poison.  Later, my date corrected every grammatical error I made when he learned that I was an English teacher.  I once agreed to go out with a 35 year old man, who later told me he was an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, not because he had a son (which he didn’t), but because scouting was fun and built good character.  He was the same guy who got mad at me when I told him that I didn’t like cheese when he asked if we should order the Flaming Cheese dish at the Greek restaurant we were at.  Almost every man I’ve ever dated comes with a horror story or weird eccentricity that cannot be overlooked, but was overlooked by me because I thought I could either fix him, or that I shouldn’t be so picky because it’s rude and inconsiderate of his feelings.  I’ve tried to be dumber than I am, smarter on topics than I really was, interested in sports or Sci-Fi trivia, listened to music that felt like my ears were going to bleed, laughed at jokes that were off color or insensitive, and stayed longer at the coffee shop, bar or restaurant than I should have all because I wanted to make sure that the guy I was with was comfortable, happy, treated with dignity, or paid attention to.  Nowhere in these dating fiascos did I put myself into the equation.  “Why should I?” I thought.  I have no right to decide if a person is a “bad or good” person, and I’m tired of being told that I’m too picky, so maybe I should just pick one.

The tide began to turn when I went on the most horrible date to this date:  a friend’s mom set me up with her friend’s son.  He was a used car salesman and told me on the phone that on a scale of 1-10 in the looks department he was a 7.  I should have known then and there that was all a lie:  a used car salesman’s technique to get you to by the hoopty-piece of junk that has a ripped fender, scraped paint, and a rusted gas tank.  When he showed up at my door, four inches shorter than me, a foot wider than me, and a thick gold chain hanging from his hairy blonde chest, I knew I was in trouble.  I got into his used car from the dealership, and we drove to a Cardinals-Cubs game in the city.  Skipping ahead a few hours, he told me he found it sexy that I was a high school teacher and said that if he was in the profession I was he would be in trouble because he would have  a hard time trying not to hit on the high school honeys.  I puked up a little of my beer.  I told him that I had to use the restroom, and then went near a hot dog vendor and called my friends to see if they could pick me up if I took the metro home.  Unfortunately, no one picked up, so I chose to stick it out and pretended to listen to his vulgar stories and detailed descriptions of carnal conquests, which I’m pretty sure never happened except for in his mind.  The consolation of the night:  The Cubs won, and he ran out of gas after he left my house.  I know the latter because he called my house phone.  I didn’t pick up, and instead  I stood near the answering machine as he begged me to come pick him up and take him to a gas station.  I never did.

I started to worry that my “I will be kind to you and help you” vibe was getting me nowhere.  I mean, Liz Lemon is just a fictional TV show character as is Carrie Bradshaw (despite the fact that she has a cult following of WASPY women in their 30s – 50s).  I still can’t turn it off, and I still am addicted to helping others put out their fires.  Maybe that will never change.  Maybe I will always be running around, hungry, disheveled, with food stains on my shirt, my eyebrows unplucked, and a crisis to run towards.  Yet, I’m starting to think I shouldn’t return the phone call from the 30-year-old guy who is living with two college freshman and learning Russian so he can help Sarah Palin fight off those Commie bastards living near her backyard.

Ruminations in a Coffee Shop

In the latest writing class I took at Washington University in St. Louis, our teacher encouraged us to write an “ethical will” in which we shared with our audience what we leave behind to them.  In the following blog is my ethical will to you, my readers.

Sunday afternoon at the local coffee shop.  Outside the air is chilly and windy.  There is a slight drizzle of constant rain gently coming down in a slant.  It makes pools of water on the gray concrete outside.  The sky is gray as well, loaning itself to the lazy Sunday feel.  Next to me, the coffee shop owner sits in a red leather chair.  She’s wearing jeans, a purple t-shirt, and tennis shoes.  Her wild, short, curly black hair, with a tint of gray, wraps itself all around her head.  She sits in a contemplative mood and listens to two men in companion chairs talking about everything and nothing at once.  One is in his late 30s  or early 40s, his balding head and wire-rimmed glasses making it harder for me to discern.  He’s wearing a red fleece jacket and black running pants and tennis shoes.  The other guy is a recent high school graduate who is taking summer courses at the nearby community college.  He too is wearing red, but it is a long-sleeved buttoned Oxford shirt.  Their conversation has been ranging from the German exchange program to music and other intellectual pursuits.  In turn, the coffee shop’s only other worker is taking a break, and has joined their circle.  His long, brown hair is twisted back in dreadlocks that hang down his back.  He has them pulled back into a makeshift ponytail by wrapping and tying one of his dreads around the whole.  He’s dressed in all black, and his fuzzy, unkempt beard adds the last “hippy” touch to his look.  He is playing his guitar in soft, repetitive chords.  It’s quite lovely and leaves me feeling a sense of contentment and peace.  Completing the coffee house scene are other patrons who are also eating, talking, reading, writing, or playing chess.

The building is old and sits on the corner of Main Street.  Inside, it has been stripped down to the bones to reveal the tin-plated ceiling which is painted white, and  the hardwood floors that are lightly polished, but already becoming worn by the regulars coming in and out for their morning coffee or sitting down at a rickety table at lunchtime for a bowl of homemade soup.  The huge windows and the glass tiles above them allow natural light to filter through and so the industrial ceiling’s track lighting is set to a soft, matted orange glow, which warms the entire space.  The thick, white ceramic mugs and saucers sitting on the tables reflect the light and give off a message to those of us with our hands wrapped around our steaming hot coffees and teas:  “Sit.  Stay.  All of your thoughts are welcomed here.”  This message is creatively hidden in the daily specials and drink menus that are neatly and artistically illustrated with colored chalk on old-school blackboards.

Coffee shops have always welcomed the artist, the writer, the philosopher.  It is a place where shabby chic and historical architecture meets old souls and weary travelers.  Where mothers can sit for a minute with their babies on their laps, or where old men can come in and play checkers and argue like school boys again.  Where lovers sit to hold hands, or singles wait for their special someones to magically walk through the door and change their lives forever.  Where artists go to meet inspiration.  Fortunately, I am a few of these people rolled into one and who has the luxury to waste away a lazy Sunday afternoon and contemplate her existence.  A deep and heavy thought for sure, but coffee shops are set up for this type of eccentricity.  My thoughts today meander around the topic of my truest self.  If I left the world today, what would I leave behind?

The first thing that comes to my mind is quite honestly material things like a house, a car, lots of clothes, a hefty savings account and a substantial life insurance policy.  Yet, I know, as we all inherently know of each of ourselves material things are not our essence.  Still, I try to put into realistic terms what it is about me that is the unique quality of which I have to contribute.  “My sense of adventure,” I quickly scribble in my  notes.  Yes, this is what I would leave behind.  Then, I overhear  the group’s conversation (as if on cue) about skydiving, and who among them have done it or ever will.  In my mind I answer their question, “Hell no!” and so I think maybe I’m not being realistic when I say “adventure” because putting my life in danger is not what I deem adventurous.  Yet, I do like to travel to different places, whether it’s a different town, state, or country so I can see what others think, how they live, what they consider beautiful, why they choose to live the way they do, and what they consider entertainment, culture and art.  I need to know and see the human element and human desires and how they are acted out and expressed.  It’s my main motivation for racking up countries on my passport and for filling up my gas tank in small-town USA.  I have an adventurous heart and a curious mind, and the more I learn about other people and cultures, the more I learn about myself.

The group is now sitting quietly, eating and drinking their coffee.  The worker with the dreadlocks is again playing his guitar.  It truly is a still moment, and a chance to experience the sublime.  Stillness and peace is hard to find and sustain, and in the minute it took me to write this, all four of them are back to talking about life, music and food again.  Being an observer, I am not phased by this shift because I’m now focused on my silence.  I have learned, rather am still learning, to be quiet more.  To listen.  To cultivate a sense of stillness and openness in my heart that allows me to let in more of my surroundings and the people who come into my life.  I am getting better at not escaping the moment, regardless of the emotions that show up, but to live inside the moment as much as possible.  Yoga has taught me this.  For 7 years now, I have been practicing at my friend’s yoga studio (down the street from this coffee shop) and have taken workshops with master teachers.  I’ve learned that yoga, life in general, is less about the poses (and the material things) and more about the breath and the acceptance of the moment:  where you are in life is right where you should be.  No changing it until it is ready to change.  I’m trying to apply that philosophy to my day-to-day life as much as possible:  don’t obsess about what you think needs to be achieved or how you think others think you should live it.  Rest fully and relish fully what is presented to you and appreciate how this moment can shape your future.

A few chuckles from the two men in the red leather chairs trickle their way to my ears.  Spontaneously, I smile.  Laughter is such a beautiful thing.  A smile is a quick way to adjust mental disarray (regardless of how cliched it may seem to read and write this statement, it’s true).  Cultivating this element of lightness inside of yourself does help balance all the range of emotions that bog us down.  Laughter, smiling, a joyful thought can diffuse any situation.  A sense of humor, is a gift.  For me, my sense of humor has slowly been slipping out of my mouth or coming out lightning quick.  My facebook statuses make me laugh as I type them, and I find that people are reacting to that silly side of me that I have trapped inside my mind all of these years.  For me, my sense of humor has been coxed out of me slowly over the past few years; now that it is here in full bloom, I am grateful for it.  I’m a passionate woman with the essence (ah, that word again) of a fierce warrior.  My totem animal as a child used to be a tiger, and it would visit me in my dreams.  The tiger was beautiful, elegant, graceful, strong and gentle to me.  It would lay down beside my dream-self and let me sleep next to it, letting me curl into its thick, soft fur, and warm body.  Always, however, its strength, power and quickness and ferocity could be felt like a current of electricity passing through a live wire.  As I grew up, the tiger left my dreams, but its spirit, its element, never left me.  At times, that warrior spirit in me gets me in trouble because in stressful situations I can be reactionary and quick to accuse, judge, and act swiftly.  Other times, it comes in quite handy.  Through my life experiences and the gifts of peace and love from my teachers in my life, I am learning how to not let the fire consume my energy as much.  Instead, laughter and my sense of humor are pulled from my heart and mind and I try to see the absurd and ridiculous in all stressful situations.  I laugh even when I have cried, yelled, screamed, and raged.  I laugh, or better yet, I make others laugh, in those rare moments when going “over the edge” seems possible.

Humor, along with my curiosity and sense of adventure, helps me filter situations so I can extract the beauty in the ordinary and link it to common threads in us all.  “What makes us tick?” is a question I ask myself (whenever I’m not contemplating my navel or scheming of clever ways to go about doing anything in a creative manner).  I have been trying to answer this question with a sense of wonderment, and lately have tried to add a more spiritual component to my observations so as to see the interconnectedness between myself and others and between myself and nature.  This last spiritual component to “who I am” or my being is harder for me to define.  I have barely scratched the surface of that, and so I will leave that for another day.  Like a sign, the dreadlocked  hippy puts down his guitar and begins eating his pesto sandwich, and the other two men have left.  The owner has stepped into the back-room to do dishes and I am left alone again with only my thoughts and the soft whir of the drink cooler.  I let the natural light spill onto my composition book and watch as a slight shadow is cast from my quickly moving fingers on the keyboard.  The rain slowly trickles down the cold windowpanes and I snuggle my sweatshirt closer around my torso.  Later, I will be home doing mundane chores and forget that I’ve even written these sentences or contemplated my essence and the truth that I am to leave behind with you.

Initiation into the Digital Realm of Writing

I’m totally lost. I don’t know what to do with this blog thing. To me, a blog sounds like a strange word like “blah” or “bleh” or “bloop” or “turd” even. I’m 34 years old, and I’m just now getting serious about my love of writing. My friends suggested to me to start blogging because they like reading my facebook status reports. Guess we’ll see if this blogging thing works for me. This one isn’t too ingenious and reads like a nervous teenage girl who is afraid that people will judge her for what she is saying about them, or anything in general. OK. Fine. I admit that I’m nervous sharing my writing to people floating out there in the digital world. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that no one can see me and vice versa. So, I got one thing up on the nervous teenage girl out there who is afraid that the boy she has a crush on will notice her zit near her kissable, lip-gloss layered lips.