Observations on Being Without Power.

 

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Image found via Pinterest.

Our state recently experienced an historic power outage due to winds of up to 60 miles per hour. My house was without power for over 72 hours. Here are a few things I observed.

Of course there is the initial annoyance. No power (and no generator) meant no lights, no heat, no water, no refrigerator. At first, it wasn’t that bad. It almost felt like a reprieve from normal life. But soon, it got old. I went to the bookstore for the afternoon to get warm and charge my phone and laptop. That night, my husband and I drank some wine and played a few games of Cribbage by candlelight. Sweet, fun and a little romantic. But waking up to a really cold house the next morning, the reprieve glow had worn off. I went to the gym to work out and take a shower. My daughter and I tried to find a place to get warm and charge our phones but every place was full. So, we got food to go and went to the yoga studio where I teach. No classes in the middle of the day so we had it to ourselves: warmth, wifi, outlets to charge. All in all, a pretty nice afternoon especially since I wrote over 2000 words on my current WIP.

That night we stayed in hotel where my husband had a business meeting. Perfect timing. Enjoyed a warm bed and a hot tub. Woke up to news that the power was back. Yay! On my way home, my daughter called to say the power was NOT back on. Boo!

I began to notice how easily swayed my mood was by things completely out of my control. I found myself getting incredibly irritated when the DTE app hadn’t updated the repair status and that irritation began to spill out all over the place. It made me wonder how often I let my mood be influenced by things out of my control. How often did I let irritations pile up and feed off each other until I was just miserable to be around for myself and others?

Each time I walked into a room, I hit the light switch. Every. Single. time. It made me realize how ingrained our habits are. It made me wonder what else I do just out of habit, basically on auto-pilot?

As the irritation began to build I realized that I was just waiting to get the power back. Just waiting. Filling time until everything was back to normal That’s what drinking the wine was about the first night. Let’s make this a little less uncomfortable and make the time pass a little easier. I wonder how often I did that, bypassing what was uncomfortable, waiting for things to happen that I want to happen.

As offers to use friends’ refrigerators or freezers to save our food, or their house for warmth or an invitation to sleep in their spare room came in, I found how awkward I felt when offered such gifts. I have no problem at all offering such gifts to others, but receiving is not easy for me. Even when it was my best friend in the whole world. She had me come down to her home for the day where she made me a fresh salad, had bought my favorite tea and crackers. I said, “My gosh you are spoiling me.” She said with a lot of passion that somebody should spoil me, that I deserve it. That I take care of everyone else all the time and the sometimes I needed to be taken care of myself. I heard the words, and I tried to receive them with an open heart but I could feel myself closing up against them. How often do I refuse to ask for help or feel guilty when accepting it?

Finally, being powerless felt like a huge, neon metaphor for how I’ve felt since the election. Certain things are just out of my control no matter how many calls I make, marches I attend, petitions I sign, meetings I go to, postcards I send.

So, with so many things out of my control, what is within my control? Always my response. Always. I chose to get irritated by the power being out. I chose to check the app twenty-five times a days, hoping to see an update. I chose to drink several large glasses of wine to escape the situation in front of me. But I also chose to seek out warmth. To continue my meditation practice even if just for two minutes. I chose to continue showing up to my current WIP, making progress despite what was going around me. Chose to notice when it felt uncomfortable accepting offers of help. I chose to accept the help anyway, learning to get comfortable with it.

Now that the lights are back on, I hope to stay aware of what is in my power, and what is not. To stay awake to my habits instead of sleepwalking through my days. To be grateful for help when it is offered and brave enough to ask when I need it, believing that I am deserving of it. To be grateful for all that I have that I blindly take for granted as I easily flip on a light switch to light up a room or turn on the faucet to receive water or open the refrigerator full of fresh food.

Just like Dorothy, the power is always within us.

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Image found via Pinterest.

 

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Books Read September – December

sept-dec-books-read

“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground, helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on a brutal history we all share. It’s not only the journey of Cora as she encounters different worlds at each stop along the way, but it’s the journey of an entire people and we are given a glimpse into the terrifying life they were forced into.

A sentence I love: George sawed with his fiddle, the notes swirling up into night like sparks gusted from a fire.

“Hungry Heart- Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing” by Jennifer Weiner

The other day, I was walking home from the hair salon to pick up my eight-year-old after school.

If you have followed me at all, you know that I am incredibly curious about other writers’ lives. So, when I saw this book I just had to read it. She covers her life from childhood through adulthood and everything along the way that made her a writer from a father who left her, to being a journalist. It was great to get an inside look at a life that partially has been played out in her books. The sister from “In her Shoes” has got to be modeled after her own sister. She doesn’t shy away from issues of weight and body image, in fact, she embraces them. Her storytelling keeps you hooked, her humor is quick and a sharp (her tweets about “The Bachelor” make we want to watch it just so I can be in on the jokes!) and I closed the book feeling I knew more about her as both a woman and a writer.

A sentence I love: Remember the way you lived in your body before you learned to see only the wrong in it.

 “The Alchemist” a novel by Paulo Coehlo

The boy’s name was Santiago.

I read this enchanting story years ago but after rereading it, this time after becoming a yoga teacher and living my yoga on and off the mat, it had a whole  new, deeper resonance. It really spoke to my heart, this whole idea of following your heart, following your intuition, which is what led me to become a yoga teacher, which has led me to create a class that combines the alchemy of both yoga and writing. In a world that often feels hopeless, this book shines a light on the very hope we need.

2 sentences I love:

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Commonwealth” a novel by Ann Patchett

The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.

Indeed it did, and that turn sets the stage for a chance encounter that reverberates through two families over five decades.

When Franny begins an affair with a literary hero of hers, Leon Posen, she tells him intimate details of her childhood that become the basis for a best-selling book and eventually, movie. She has no idea that she has set in motion  a ripple that will force both families to deal with issues they have kept buried for many, many years. It’s a rich novel full of love and loss, guilt and loyalty, life and death.

Ann Patchett is masterful at creating complex characters with complex stories and I am just happy to be along for the ride.

Several sentences I love:

Life, Theresa knew by now, was a series of losses. It was other things too, better things, but the losses were as solid and dependable as the earth itself.

“There’s no protecting anyone,” Fix said, and reached over from his wheelchair to put his hand on hers. “Keeping people safe is a story we tell ourselves.”

“Ongoingness- The End of a Diary” by Sarah Manguso

I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It’s eight hundred thousand words long.

I literally just finished this book. Part of me thinks I should wait to reflect until I’ve had time to process it, perhaps after I’ve allowed myself the luxury of reading it again all through in one sitting. But another part of me wants to get my thoughts down before they evaporate. Which feels perfect for this book which is all about memory and time and trying not to forget and learning to remember and just being in the experience rather than chronicling it for a later date.

Each page had a sentence that just blew me away. The prose is sparse and powerful. Each page takes on an almost skeletal beauty, getting to the bare bones of who we are, who we think we are. It’s an elegant meditation on the brutal beauty of time and memory.

2 sentences I love (hard to pick just 2 but here you go):

The essential problem of ongoingness is that one must contemplate time as that very time, that very subject of one’s contemplation, disappears.

Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments—an inability to accept life as ongoing.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Okoloma was one of my greatest childhood friends.

This is a modified version of a TEDTalk she gave in December of 2012. I read it and immediately bought two more to put in my daughters’ stocking this Christmas. It’s a book we all should read because we should all be feminists. It’s a book that reminds us that though we are all human beings “…there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman.” And those particular things need to be acknowledged, seen and heard so they can be changed.

A sentence I love: Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problems of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

“Mr. Ives’ Christmas” a novel by Oscar Hijuelos

Years ago, in the 1950s, as a young man working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Ives always looked forward to the holiday season and would head out during his lunch hours, visiting churches, to think and meditate, and, if he was lucky, to hear the choirs as they practiced their hymns and sacred songs.

A friend recommended this book years and years ago. I bought it back then and it has sat on my bookshelves until this holiday season when I found it and felt compelled to finally read it.

It was the perfect antidote to the stress I’ve been feeling over the state of the world. I was able to drop into another world each time I picked it up. Not that it was a thoroughly happy world. No, it was not at all. It is about life and death and loss and grief. But something about the writing, the story, the characters was a much needed balm to my battered soul. I found myself tearing up and feeling a particular reverence for the beauty of the world, no matter what state it is in.

A sentence I love: Then there were the swirls of green wire and Christmas lights, those that tipped over and bubbled, those whose glowing filaments pirouetted like ballerinas, those whose collars resembled cherry necklaces—those lights entangled or cleverly strung, adorning store windows, twinkling with benevolence, and, it seemed to Ives, nearly breathing, like everything else in the world.

“Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton

It’s almost time. My father and I stand at the edge of a long white carpet, laid just this morning over the freshly cut grass.

Maybe it was the holidays or end of the year emotions but these last two books I read this year, though totally different in tone and subject, really touched my heart. I felt incredibly moved by both stories, feeling more connected to the world that I had been hovering over since the election, distancing myself from it. Both of these stories show people who faced the unthinkable and came out the other side.

Melton’s memoir dives deep into the shadows of what it means to be human and flawed. She bravely peels back the layers of herself and her marriage. She is honest and raw and vulnerable and in doing so, she gives the reader lucky enough to read her words to believe it’s okay if they allow themselves to be honest, raw and vulnerable, too.

A sentence I love: At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

The Necessity of Structure.

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Image found via Pinterest.

I just played with my first haiku since high school.

As part of the Write Yourself Alive challenge, I am trying to do the prompts that, well, challenge me.

Poetry challenges me.

Structured poetry challenges me even more.

But here’s what I learned. Or, maybe, it’s something I remembered.

Structure is essential to creativity.

It seems counterintuitive, I know. Creativity is free flowing,exactly the opposite of structured.

But nothing gets done without a structure.

All those pages I have filled over the years would have just stayed pages of free-writing, or practice unless I came up with a structure to contain them whether it was a story, novel, essay, blog post or even just a Facebook post.

We need to structure our time or nothing gets written or created. Nothing gets finished. Nothing gets submitted or shared with the world.

My yoga mat is a type of structure. My practice is a container for my attention. I have this one hour on my mat to connect with my body, my mind, with this moment. Without the structure of a practice I would completely lose that connection.

A recipe is a structure for a meal.

The tools you choose to create are the structure for the next piece or art whether its paper, scissors and glue or paint and canvas.

A pattern gives structure to a dress, otherwise it stays a lump of material.

Goals give structure to our dreams otherwise they stay dreams.

Where do you need more structure in your life? Feel free to share in the comments!

Oh, and here’s the Haiku Series I wrote:

Just Us

The days of just us
in our own little cocoon
of freedom and love.

Then fertility
crept in with charts and hormones
leaving us afloat.

Let go of that dream.
Immersed myself in college
then the line appears.

And two became three.
Three easily became four
Perfect square of love.

Small and big moments
Wove us together as one
Fights, fun, tears and joys.

Then college takes one
Creating a triangle
Leaving a true gap.

Then the other leaves.
Two there and two here alone.
Learning to embrace

The silence and space.
Standing face to face once more
Just the two of us.

The Practice of Devotion to all that Lights Me Up.

The Art of Finding the Gifts & Lessons in 2015.

2015 hilights

I thought 2015 would end up being a sad, rather empty year.

It was the first year of our empty nest. It was the year of paying for two kids in college. It was the year a back injury took several months to heal.

Imagine my surprise when I looked back and found that 2015 was anything but sad and empty.

It was the year of many gifts and lessons.

A dear friend and I took our daughters to Siesta Key for their senior year spring break. We rented a house right on the beach where we barbequed, read and I did yoga on the gorgeous patio. We walked into town, ate delicious meals, swam in the ocean, walked on the beach.

We moved both of our girls up to school—one into an apartment, one into a dorm. They both finished with very good GPA’s, are in the same sorority and seem to be thriving which is the greatest gift of all as a parent.

We (and by we, I mean my awesome husband) turned one of the bedrooms into my yoga room. I have to admit, I was afraid that after all that work, I’d use it the first week then it would fall off my radar. Not the case at all. I am in there daily, if not more. I can’t express how grateful I am to have this space of my own to practice yoga, meditation and just stay connected with my energy, my thoughts, feelings… with my self.

I was gifted with a new circle of amazing women friends who share the same passions as me. One night our adventure ended up being going to yoga then to a bookstore. Yoga and books! Two of my favorite things! I knew that I had found my tribe. This has actually been a huge gift for me. It is hard to make true friendships when not in school or in an office or when the kids are grown. Truly grateful!

I never thought I’d put hurting my low back on a list of gifts from this year but it has been. I’ve learned and gained so much! I’ve learned to let go of perfection. The house can be clean enough. I can take longer to do tasks whereas before I’d just power through to get them done. I’ve become a better yoga teacher—more connected to my students as I watch them more carefully now, giving very specific cues. I’ve learned to ask for help—not an easy thing for me to do. I always have this fear of being seen as a burden. No longer. When your husband needs to help you pull up your pants, you pretty much get over that fear.

This year I rebirthed an old writing group. The three of us are a perfect fit and are committed to showing up once a month, committed to supporting and cheering each other on. This was another thing on my list of intentions and here it is, in reality. So grateful.

This is the year I made some serious progress on my YA novel. In this last month, I’ve recommitted to my blog, to posting regularly and I am connecting new people, which I love!

This is the year I really came into my own as a yoga teacher. I still have much to learn and much that I want to learn but I feel a confidence and connection that I hadn’t before. I love my students. I love that I can have even the smallest, briefest impact on their day. I love when they connect with a quote or poem I read. I love when a theme speaks to them. I love when they leave a class feeling better than when they arrived—more present, more open, more grounded, softer, stronger—whatever it is. It is an honor to teach and share this path with my students, fellow teachers and peers.

This is the year that I took some tiny steps toward loving my body as it is. Not if I lose 5, 10 or 20 pounds. But right now, as it is in all its glorious and beautiful imperfections. When I look back on my life do I want to see all the things I didn’t do or wear or eat just because I was afraid of how I looked? Uh, there answer is hell no.

I also took tiny steps in the direction of letting go of expectations. How people behave is a reflection of them, not me. However, how I respond is a reflection of me, and the kind of person I want to be. That I can control. The other…not so much.

This is the year that I learned that my husband and I are not only still deeply in love but, more importantly, we really like each other. The first empty nest year can be tricky. Once the distraction of kids and all of their logistics is gone, it’s just the two of you. We found that we enjoy just the two of us. We have time to pursue our own interests and time for each other. Win/win!

Maybe it’s all in my perception. Maybe I’m looking at the past year with rose-colored glasses. Because, yeah, there have been some sad, hard, crappy parts. But, if I can put it all in perspective and find the good in it, find the lessons in it all, grow from it all (even a little bit) then I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.

How about you? What was your 2015 like? I’d love to hear!

 

The Art of Wabi-Sabi.

gold lotus om

One of the challenges of the holidays can be the added pressure of striving for perfection: finding the perfect gift, decorating the perfect tree, cooking the perfect meal, throwing the perfect party.

Today, on this Winter Solstice, is an ideal time to release the idea of perfection. Perfect according to who, anyway? How will you know when you’ve reached perfection? The truth is, you never will. That little voice in your head? That’s its job, so it’s never going to allow you to find perfection since that means it would be irrelevant.

Allow yourself to release the heavy burden of perfection for the lightness of wabi-sabi: a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.

The other day my husband and I were putting the finishing touch on my yoga room—a gold wall decal of an om symbol within a lotus flower. It’s about three feet by two feet so it was a little unruly to work with, trying to get it centered without it sticking too much to the wall, then getting it to stick enough to peel off the backing but leave the gold on the wall.

We encountered tiny air bubbles along the way. My husband dutifully and gently attended to each one, trying to make the surface perfectly smooth. The foil and wall did not cooperate.

wabi-sabi

Finally, I said to just leave it as is—air bubbles and all. They aren’t all that noticeable and when I do notice them they remind me of all the hard work and love he put into creating this sanctuary for me.

In that moment I practiced wabi-sabi and found the beauty beneath the supposed imperfection.

In that moment I released the heaviness of perfection and welcomed in light, joy and peace of the beauty before me.

What can you release? What can you welcome in?

Embrace the Holy Moment

The gold clings to the

softly mottled blue wall

Shimmering, majestic.

Small pockets of air arise

Marring the surface,

Disrupting the flow.

Pressing gently,

attempting to feather

the air out and away.

Searching for a perfectly smooth

Sheen of gold

But they stubbornly return,

again and again.

Finally I surrender,

Instead of erasing them,

I choose to embrace

the beauty of these

So-called imperfections.

Pursuing perfection is fruitless

It leeches joy from the moment.

How much easier life becomes

when we no longer judge the

usefulness and beauty of something

based on such shallow, unknowable standards.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty of

The imperfect,

The impermanent,

The incomplete.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of each moment

As it is.

How much easier to

embrace the holy beauty

of yourself

Just as you are.

Five on Friday

No Apology Necessary.

1. Tayari Jones is sharing an awesome series of posts on writing rituals.

2. What exactly are we apologizing for?

3. What I learned from being an apprentice.

4. Everyone needs to watch this movie. Seriously, everyone.

5. Love this concept of the space between two people in a relationship.