Wednesday, February 5, 2014

365 poems

One of my intentions for 2014 was to write a poem a day for each day of the year.  Some days I slack and then other days I crank out 2-3 poems at a time.  It's only February.  By June I may be writing 30 at a time to catch up for a month.  Here is the one I wrote today:


You died a few days ago
And I’ve thought of it every day since
So many people fighting
For their right to eulogize you
To explain you, defend you
To claim their rights on
But not you. 
So even in your death
Addiction beat you
Has won the limelight of your
But not for me. 
I only remember you.
And the feelings that you sparked in me
When I first saw you stick
Your cum-soaked tissues to the Wall in
and every other movie after that
where you played a character with more grit
than others had been brave enough to do
and I know that your passing
does not so much make me think of you
but of me
and my experiences of watching you
and maybe that’s ok

because I never really knew you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Killing my Self with Kindness

Over the last year and a half, I quit 4 jobs, left my community of 10 years and uprooted to a new location to follow my husband’s career.  Knowing this was going to be a difficult time, I decided to be kind to myself.  I wanted to give myself some “time.”  I am not sure what I was doing with all this time.   I did the practical things—found some new jobs, made good friends, located some yoga studios.  But I kept giving myself a break, letting myself off the hook.

Here is what I learned on this break: knowing how to do yoga postures does not equate physically practicing the yoga postures.  Moreover, understanding the benefits of meditation does not bring you the benefits of meditation.  As a result my body, mind and emotions all got flabby. I was killing my Self with kindness. 

 Old clothes weren’t fitting.  Out of kindness to myself I bought new, bigger clothes.  My mind was too itchy, anxious to sit in meditation, so in spirit of not expecting too much of myself, I read Facebook.  Some may argue, “No, no, no my dear, this is not what we mean by kindness.  Kindness is yoga, time for yourself and green leafy salads.”  To me, kindness felt like doing whatever I wanted without judgment.

After about a year of “nurturing” myself judgment-free, I was crap.  My body was crap and my emotions were crap.  I was lying on my mat in the yoga room and I realized this was the 3rd day in row that I had practiced yoga.  Then I said to myself, “I am going to practice yoga every day until I quit feeling like crap.”  (And then I specifically defined yoga in my head to be more than the walk-across-the-yoga-mat-on-the-way-to-the-bathroom-yoga that I had been “practicing” daily.)

 I am on day 13 of yoga. 

Nothing miraculous has happened.

Except, I feel like writing for the first time in months.  Except, I no longer feel like I have to hide in my clothes, I can just wear them.  Except, I am finding I have less time for long-grazing meals coupled with infinite internet searches.    Overall, I feel a little less crappy.

I have asked myself the question, “Why wasn’t I going to yoga every day before?”  Some of my answers were interesting:
  • Well, I don’t want people to think all I do is yoga.
  • The people at the studio will think I don’t have a life.
  • I haven’t done anything stressful enough to deserve yoga.
  • The owners might think I am taking advantage of my teacher-rate monthly yoga membership.
  • I need to go grocery shopping.

Looking at my list of excuses, I wonder if I was really spending all my time trying to be kind to others.

I plan on practicing yoga tomorrow.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Moving forWARD: Non-Attachment vs Tradition

This Mother’s Day will be the first Mother’s Day in 7 years that I am not riding my bike with my husband from Boulder, CO to Ward, CO for our annual “Mother’s Day” ride.  Mother’s Day is in quotations because it is a joke in our family that I always get a babysitter on Mother’s Day so that for a few hours on this glorious day, I don’t have to Mother.  I cherish this ride.  As my two boys keep getting older the joke has begun, “Well, when you are a strong enough cyclist, you can spend Mother’s Day with Mom.” 

The tradition ends this Sunday.  Now that we have moved to Minneapolis, MN, it seems a little excessive to bike to Ward.  My heart is a little bit broken.  Each time I feel this disappointment--like a good yogi--I find myself breathing in and saying reassuring things like, “This is what change feels like.  Everything changes.  It is the one thing we can count on.” 

As I sit in meditation in the morning for a few minutes before waking the kids, I think, “Wait, how can a philosophy teach both acceptance of change and promotion of routine?”  Aren’t the two things complete opposites?

Buddhism, Yoga, Ayurveda practices (despite their variances in philosophies and beliefs) all ask us to establish some sort of a daily routine.  Some routines make parents with young children laugh.  For example one Ayurvedic waking ritual suggests: wake with the sun; small waking ritual; empty bowels; brush teeth/scrape tongue/neti pot; meditate/pranayama; exercise/yoga; garshana/abhyanga; shower; light breakfast. And this ritual is not just for Mother’s day.  It’s for everyday.

I am lucky if I put a bra on to walk the kids to the bus stop by 6:57am.

My purpose for writing this blog is not to challenge the validity of these routines.  On the other hand I think rituals are brilliant and something for which to aspire.  Rituals help us feel grounded.  Rituals bring comfort.  Rituals slow down that race-y feeling of anxiety when you have to plan something new every Mother’s Day.  In fact commitment to a ritual becomes the standard for gaging one’s spiritual commitment.

Rather, the purpose of my writing is to examine the sense of loss that happens when change occurs and disrupts our routines.  How do routines fit within the teachings of non-attachment and accepting change?  Like the “chicken and the egg” preponderance (a good Mother’s Day metaphor) are we attached to rituals or do rituals create attachment?

What would happen to a Buddhist nun if she got a phone call in the middle of her mid-day meditation?  This may sound funny, because she wouldn’t get a phone call.  She wouldn’t even have her phone with her, if indeed, she even owned a phone.  Many of our greatest spiritual leaders remove themselves from worldly distractions, precisely so that they can accomplish their routines. 

So this Mother’s day I am really asked to examine what is my attachment to the routine?

I understand some the attachment to mine.  Riding my bike up the steep grade (The Wall) just before Ward has always symbolized the intense endurance that was required of me to become a Mother.  Moreover the freedom of riding my bike (kid-free) surrounded by mountains and blue skies reminds me that I am more than just a Mother.  I see here that these are simply ideas I’ve assigned to a physical event.  I can re-create this same meaning in new traditions, or I can let the meaning go altogether.  Or like most things, I can find some peace in just being a little more aware of my disappointed feelings.

This Sunday, I am riding bikes with the whole family to a festival in the park.  (I couldn't find a babysitter.) I’ll be letting go of my attachment, but I can’t promise I won’t be secretly plotting new traditions.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Losing my identity

When we decided to move to Minneapolis for my husband's job, I figured it would be hard. I anticipated it would feel something like the baby blues, mild bouts of depression for a few months and then eventually it would clear up.

And then you move, and you are just going along with the day-to-day necessities, unpacking, signing kids up for school, finding parks, buying more crap to put into your house after you were just appalled at how much crap you had when you moved out of your old house, when all of a sudden you stop and think, “Wait…who am I?” I was thinking this very thought. I was in the throes of identity crisis, wearing a cocktail dress and greeting some new babysitter with whom I was about to leave my kids so I could make my debut at my husband’s new company’s holiday party—when the question hit me square in the face. Who am I? I didn’t know how big my feelings of “who am I” were until I went to put my driver’s license and credit card in a smaller purse (vainly hoping that I looked young enough to be carded) and it was gone. My identity was gone.

Where the hell was my driver’s license? I looked through every crevice of wallet and purse. I attempted to do this calmly trying not to give the babysitter the idea that I was straight out of the Cursing Mommy column in The New Yorker. Oh never mind. I don’t think she read The New Yorker. Shit! Where was my driver’s license? I made a mental list of all the places I’d been that week that could have asked me for my license…the library, the YMCA, the neighborhood recreation center. And then I thought, when I was 28, I would have called the bars to find my ID. At 38, I call the library. WHO AM I?

I grabbed my passport (still convinced I looked young enough to be carded) and went to the party.

The driver’s-license-identity-crisis-snafu was put on the back burner and just became another annoying errand that I had to do. The kind of errand that you have to do, but you don’t really know how to do it, so instead you let the errand just sit in your stomach and rub away at the lining. I would get random pains thinking, “How will I get a Minnesota driver’s license without my old license?” Finally, probably on a day when I felt very certain who I was and very insistent that I had a government ID to prove it, I figured it all out. I filled out the paper work on my computer requesting a new license be issued in my old state. I dug through two boxes to find the cables to hook up the printer. I searched google maps to find a place to make a copy. I found the place. I made a copy of my passport. I stuck it all in an envelope and mailed it off. Done. My identity was requested. And now to wait its arrival.

I missed my driver’s license. It was like this odd little reminder to myself of the mantra that was mounting in my soul, “Nothing got lost in the move but me.” From 9 years of teaching college students about self-fulfilling prophecy, I understood this was not a productive mantra. “Nothing got lost in the move but me.” I kept telling myself anyway. It seemed to describe the subtly awkward taste I had in my mouth on a day-to-day basis when I tried to answer questions like, "Well what do you do for work?" Or worse, the mantra seemed to ring with the tiny vibrations of anxiety that I kept plucking at with my breath when people would fail to ask anything about my before Minneapolis.

I knew this feeling of losing my identity was the “hard” part of the move. The part everyone says, “Yeah it’s gonna be hard, but you can do it.” I hear people say that a lot to justify having kids, taking on new life adventures, and moving. Ironically, as soon as things get hard, many of us hate the hard sensations and so we start to criticize old plans and start making new. This feeling lost. This looming question, “Who am I?” This was the hard. And I was in the hard.

As a general practice, I try to stay in the hard. I read a lot of Pema Chodrin. I believe rather than trying to escape the unnerving sensations that I will benefit in the long run if, instead of numbing, I breathe, I stay, I watch. And I lasted in this observatory state for about a week, until I opened my wallet to buy more crap and I realized my Passport was missing. F&#@!!! My identity: gone. Really gone. My skin was red hot and panic set in. I was wavering between exploring what the Universe was trying to tell me and freaking out that someone from the Canadian-owned yoga studio I had just attended was trying to steal my identity. It was a rocky moment. My mantra was back, “Nothing got lost in the move but me.” My vision had closed in. It was narrow and blurry. I started pacing.

I thought what I should do is sit and meditate for 10 minutes and just observe these feelings. What I did instead was begin to piece together how I would go about getting a new passport without a driver’s license in less than month as I was going out of the country in 3 weeks. And when I finally got to the question in my mental processing, “Do I have any copies of my passport?” It hit me. I had left my passport on the copy machine over a week ago when I had made a copy of it to request a new driver’s license. I had lost my identity in attempt to find it.

I called the copy shop. They had my passport in their safe. I went to pick it up immediately. I needed my identity back. And thank goodness that I did as the very next morning, I was pulled over making a left turn on a “No Left Turn from 7am – 9am” street while driving my husband to work because his car wouldn’t start in 16 below zero weather. WHO AM I? I thought of telling the officer, "My husband told me to turn here."

But I thought he might say, “And you do everything your husband tells you to do? Aren’t you a person too?”

To which I may have responded, “Well, Officer, I'm getting there.”

Monday, May 9, 2011

All I really need to know I learned when my kid went to kindergarten

I laughed when I looked at my blog today--finally feeling like writing--and I realized that the last time I wrote, my 6 year old was starting kindergarten. In two weeks, he’ll be graduating.

In honor, I thought I would bring some reality to the book title, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Robert Fulghum’s popular book supposes that the lessons of kindergarten prepare children for the future challenges we face as an adult. Fulghum’s book paints kindergarten as a dreamy place where things like sharing are taught by a fairy-like teacher singing through the classroom. This is true, I think, in some kindergarten classes today.

I would like to make a list with a slightly different title, ”All My Kindergartener Learned in Public Schools with a 30:1 Student/Teacher Ratio.”

· Calling your teacher, “Mrs. FREAKING Teacher,” earns you time in the recovery chair.

· We spend more time on reading and math than art, because art really isn’t very important for being smart.

· White girls can’t like black boys.

· You really do get in trouble if you give the middle finger.

· Some kids steal school supplies.

· Library time means time to play computer games.

· If you are too good, you get ignored.

· You cannot pull girls’ shirts down.

· Scissors are meant for cutting paper not your shirt or your pants.

Some will read this list and find reasons not to attend public schools. Some will read this list and find reasons to invest more money into public schools. In reality it is just a list and some of these lessons will be learned by kids in private, religious and home schools everywhere.

The list is really more of a lesson for the parents than the kids. What we as parents learn when our children start kindergarten is that despite thinking we were in control for five years, we in fact are not. Some of us will spend years denying this and enforcing control in any conceivable way possible—switching schools, demanding teachers, unfriending families, and more. Others will find the lack of control as an easy excuse to blame everyone/thing else for the outcome of their children, shirking any responsibility of their own doing. The challenge of being a parent is to have the ability to love and protect your child at the same time you have the awareness to see when control starts masquerading as love and protection.

And so Fulgham’s book title could maybe be altered again to read, “All Parents Really Need to Know their Kids Teach them in Kindergarten.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I am ready to get on with my life

These are the words of my five year old on the eve of his first day of kindergarten. And Yes, I am a mother who cries when her kids go off to school. Sometimes people think we are sad because we want to cling on to our children—keep them young forever. This is not the case for me, as I count down the days until they can ride with me on long road rides, go off to college and maybe visit on the holidays. Yet, I still am drawn inward and become sullen when the major life milestones pass me by.

These events are a reminder of the human condition of impermanence, and our undying attempts to make things permanent. Ironically, the word, “settled,” carries a positive connotation in our culture. “Now I finally feel settled.” We reach and grasp to feel like we have everything under control, only to be reminded we don’t.

Going to kindergarten is much like this. As parents we’ve been besieged with figuring out how to live with tiny humans in our life. When they come into the world, they disrupt our sleep, our social life, our emotions, our finances. And after five years we finally begin to feel settled. And then you send them to kindergarten and the uncertainty begins again.

And so we begin again clutching to any control we can find—packing the right lunch, having the right school supplies, reading the best books. And maybe these help. And maybe they don’t. Sometimes it is enjoyable to be gloomy and soak in the passing of time and the reality that you have no control.

Children get impermanence. Of all the kids who showed up for their first day of school at a large, urban K-8 public school, not one student was crying. They were all ready to get on with their lives. They all grasp that life is changing. As a child it changes constantly—lose a tooth, grow a tooth, jump a shoe size, shoot up the measuring chart. A child is standing on the balls of their feet, knees slightly bent, looking at the world like, “What’s next?”

We are taught as parents today to help make them feel secure by giving them “lovies” or “stuffies”--objects of permanence that can help them feel like they can control their world. Are these items of stability really helping our kids? Or are they acculturating them to cling on to stuff and moments, only to feel great loss when they are gone?

These are questions for which I do not have the answer, but they are worthy of consideration. And for today, I am taking the lead from my five year old, and getting on with my life.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Training Day

The reason I sign up for a race is to give me an excuse to train. I love my 5 hour training rides more than showing up to the start line on any race day. Race days suck. They are full of nerves and catastrophes. I’ve decided that if you don’t love to train, you shouldn’t race. On May 29th I will race from Durango, CO to Silverton, CO. This is my 4th year either riding or racing the Ironhorse Classic. It would be my 5th, except one year the race got cancelled at the last minute due to snow, which only emphasizes my point.

I spend all my free time in March, April and May, jumping on my bike any chance I can get, just to be ready for Ironhorse. All of the time and money spent on babysitters and ignoring other duties puts a lot of stress on race day paying off. But the secret is, I don’t care what happens on race day. I am just so damn excited that I got to spend three months on my bike preparing for it.

This attitude is a helpful perspective when racing, because I find races are more often a disaster than not. One year I locked handlebars and wheels with another cyclist in the pack while cruising along at a mere 30mph. Amazingly we both stayed up right, but I had to finish the race with my front brake released and a 1 inch wobble in my front tire. I did better than the guy in front of us who was taken out by a large cone in the road. I hope he enjoyed training more than racing as well.

Last year, my husband and I both spent all spring preparing for the race. He left early in the morning to get to his race start. On the way to my race start (an hour later) I passed my husband on the side of the road ripping his tire off his bike—he flatted on the way to the start, and missed his race. He still rode the 47 mile and 5700 ft of climbing course for the fun of it.

So as I was doing a training ride up Squaw Pass the other day and the blizzard came upon me, I thought it is sure a good thing that I love training more than racing, because a race is just one day. Training can go on forever.

Follow my training tweets: #IHBC