Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Though it's just turned to Fall, I've found myself drawn to re-reading one of my favorite essays every night this week - Winter by Nina Zolotow. I first saw it in Rodney Yee's book Yoga: The Poetry of the Body. I understand this essay now more than I ever have in the 7 years since I first read it. I pull it out in times of trouble, in times when I'm feeling sad and worn out and confused about how to move forward. Her conclusion makes me a feel a little better, gives me a bit more license to give myself a much-needed break. I love that the only period is at the end of the essay, and that all of the other sentences and phrases run together in one long, cohesive thought, just like life.
And now here I am at the final day of September, ready to release this month in favor of a happier, sunnier October. And some much needed rest and relaxation. A tired heart and mind can only be rejuvenated by rest and care, not by further trial and challenge. So that's my goal for the next little while - a simple one, really. To just take care of this heart who has endured so much this month, to surround it with love, to nurture it back to its original state. It has done some heavy lifting this month and earned some well-deserved down time. Just like the fig tree, it will certainly be revived.
Last night, I listened to Professor Michael Sandel's lectures at justiceharvard.org. They were just what I needed. He spoke about how to value life and the utilitarian philosophy that seeks to maximize pleasure over pain. I was lulled into a relaxed state as he told me about Sophocles and Plato, J.S. Mill, and Jeremy Bentham. And fell into a deep sleep between my comfy sheets made of bamboo fiber and topped by a fluffy duvet. I buried myself into my new bed, cocooning and nurturing my weary body and mind, and didn't stir until the sun came up. So this is what it feels like to heal.
Winter by Nina Zolotow
"In their garden there was always a wild profusion of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and leafy basil, arugula, and lettuce, and glossy purple eggplants, and red and yellow peppers, and zucchini with its long, bright blossoms, and there was always lunch at the wooden table on hot summer afternoons, with plates of pasta and bread and olives and salads with herbs, and many bottles of red wine that made you feel warm and drowsy, while bees hummed and the sprawling marjoram, thyme, and rosemary gave off their pungent fragrances, and at the end of the meal, always, inexplicably, there were fresh black figs that they picked themselves from the tree at the garden's center, an eighteen-foot fig tree, for how was it possible - this was not Tuscany but Ithaca - Ithaca, New York, a rough-hewn landscape of deep rocky gorges and bitter icy winters, and I finally had to ask him - my neighbor - how did that beautiful tree live through the year, how did it endure the harshness of a New York winter and not only survive until spring but continue producing the miraculous fruit, year after year, and he told me that it was quite simple, really, that every fall, after the tree lost all its leaves, he would sever the tree's roots on one side only and, on the tree's other side, he would dig a trench, and then he would just lay down that flexible trunk and limbs, lay them down in the earth and gently cover them with soil, and there the fig tree would rest, warm and protected, until spring came, when he could remove its protective covering and stand the tree up once again to greet the sun; and now in this long gray season of darkness and cold and grief (do I have to tell you over what? for isn't it always the same - the loss of a lover, the death of a child, or the incomprehensible cruelty of one human being to another?), as I gaze out of my window at the empty space where the fig tree will stand again next spring, I think, yes, lay me down like that, lay me down like the fig tree that sleeps in the earth, and let my body rest easily on the ground - my roots connecting me to some warm immutable center - luxuriating in the heart of winter."
The photo above is not my own. It was taken in Centennial Park in Sydney, Australia by Mike Bogle. I can be found here.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
At lunch time, I went to my favorite little sandwich shop and took a seat in Trinity Churchyard near Alexander Hamilton. I've been going to Trinity a lot during lunch lately. Last night I didn't sleep too well and I thought a walk over to Trinity might help me clear my head. And then something very odd happened, as if Hamilton's feisty spirit and his inability to ignore injustice inspired me. I was tearing up behind my sunglasses and then this burst of anger came to the forefront of my mind. It was a little un-nerving because I am not at all an angry person by nature. Anger, mine or anyone else’s, makes me very nervous. Without being able to stop it, I began to have a stern conversation with God, silently.
“I really hope you’re happy because now you’ve really done it. You have screwed up royally here. It wasn’t enough to have my apartment building catch fire, have me almost get trapped inside, and then destroy most of my belongings with smoke. You had to take my dog, too? Really? You must be really proud of yourself up there, divine and content, messing with all of us down here. My sister’s crying. My brother-in-law’s crying. I’m crying. I accept that most of the losses that I’ve had in my life were timely. Sebastian’s was not. He was only 7! Our last dog lived to be 17! A full decade longer! I hate to say it, God, but you were wrong on this one. Completely wrong. I must emphatically disagree with you; it was not Sebastian’s time yet. You pulled the plug on him way too early and I’m really pissed off at you for that. We needed some more years with him. He deserved some more years with us. I really hope the next time something like this comes up, you think a little bit harder about what you’re doing. And by the way, I have had more than my fair share of sadness this month. Actually, I’ve had enough for the remainder of the year, maybe for the remainder of the next few years so you are really going to have to back off. I’m sick of going through boxes of tissues in a day. I’m sick of feeling disappointed and sad and frustrated and scared. There’s a big ol’ lesson in all of this for me. I get it. I hear you. 'Nothing is permanent.' Fine. 'We have to be flexible.' Got it. 'We need to accept that with great love must also come great loss.' Check. 'Some days, we’re the pigeon and some days we’re the statue.' I understand that, and I’m telling you I’ve reached my quota of statue days. Enough!”
And then I let out a big, big sigh. I looked over at Alexander Hamilton, and then around at the other people sitting near me having lunch. And though my thoughts just now raged inside my mind, it seems that no one else heard me. Except God. He heard me. I knew he did, and I think he’s a little ashamed of his recent behavior toward me. And he should be. The piling up of this month’s events was really uncalled for. Whew – that was scary but it felt great. I needed to get that out.
As I got back onto Broadway and headed North, I found my smile again. I even laughed a little. I just yelled at God – really yelled at him. (I’ve never yelled at anyone like that ever. Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I raised my voice. I was probably a teenager!) Tiny little me, 5’2”, 110-pound me, just yelled at the Creator of the Universe. And he listened. He didn’t try to deny my grief or anger or sadness. He didn’t try to make it better or soothe my weary mind. He showed up and just listened. He eeked out a very small “I’m sorry” and I whispered back “I accept your apology.”
We have a funny relationship, God and I. Throughout my life I have at times adored him and doubted him. Sometimes I have flat out walked away and left him in the dust. And then I realized that I wanted him back, and when I peeked around the corner of faith again, a little embarrassed that I stormed off, there he was. Right where I left him. Waiting patiently, just like Sebastian would wait for us to get home. They're more alike than I realized. Animals are more virtuous that we recognize - they might be the closest we ever get to a holy presence on Earth. I think God and I are going to be okay now. And I think Sebastian is okay, too.
As I got closer to my office, I felt that awful terrible weight from Sunday lift off my heart slightly. It’s still there. I got over my apartment and belongings going up in smoke, though I really miss Sebastian, and always, always will. I miss knowing that he’s not in the world anymore. That I won’t be able to hug him again, or take him for a walk, or rub his cute little belly. I would have liked just one more hug, and sadly that wish will not be fulfilled until I cross over to where he is now. Waiting for us, as he always was here on Earth. God better make sure Sebastian’s up there, well taken care of, and ready for me to take him for his walk when we all get back together again.
My friend, Amy, is a conflict resolution and trauma expert. I spent a long time on the phone with her on Sunday night, talking through what I’ve been feeling this month. She refers to this process of grief as the glass of water analogy. We can think of difficult times as being a specific amount of water and ourselves as glasses. Each time we encounter something difficult, the respective amount of water gets poured into our glass. I could have dealt with any one of the sad circumstances from this month, but putting them all together within 3 weeks' times was just too much and my glass has overflowed with sadness.
The overflow happens sometimes, and as my pal, Laura, said to me "it sucks and it's okay to feel like it sucks for a while." Eventually the only thing to do is to sop up the excess water and start to empty our glass, even it’s just one little teaspoon at a time. The love and support from my friends and family this month has been such an amazing source of strength, and they're helping me bail out the water from my glass. It’s going to take me a little time to get that glass emptied but I am 100% committed to getting it done. Alison Krauss, one of my favorite musicians, sings a song that goes “Just get me through December, A promise I’ll remember, Get me through December, So I can start again.” Her December is my September, and I am almost through it. After a very long, sad month, I feel like I’m moving in the right direction.
The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.
Monday, September 28, 2009
"Animals are reliable, full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to." ~ Alfred A. Montapert
Coming straight at me was a long-haired black and tan dachshund, bigger than Sebastian, with nearly identical markings. He was galloping along, just like Sebastian used to do, chasing a couple of pigeons. I smiled. I've long-considered dachshunds that cross my path my good luck charms. I couldn't help but think that our brave little friend sent me that dachshund to let me know that he is okay now and that I shouldn't worry about him. And then I started to cry all over again, right in the middle of the sidewalk. I guess there's no way past this kind of pain except through it.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
"My favorite place is my imagination." ~ Jackie Pagan
On my way to see Muhammad Yunus earlier this week, one of the subway posters caught my attention. It said "Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world." It's a quote from Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher. It made me think of how often our own reality and experience limits our ability to realize, work for, and achieve change in every aspect of our lives. How do we begin to expand our limits to imagine a wholly different existence, for ourselves and for others?
I find that reading helps. I read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, and reading about the accomplishments and motivations of others gives me inspiration and courage. Stubbornness and a desire to seek out and generate understanding can go a long way toward imagining a different kind of world.
"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too," Goethe said. It's true in business, in personal relationships, in rising above challenges. If we commit to being present and persevering, somehow we make it through even the most difficult of times. Somehow the way ahead opens before us. There's real magic in commitment.
There were plenty of times in the past three weeks when I thought I might fall apart; when I felt scared and alone and filled with anxiety. And the moment I felt those old familiar feelings creeping in, I promptly slammed the door on them. I couldn't let myself feel defeated; that's a road to nowhere. I had to keep digging deeper for strength. I had to imagine a different reality where I was grateful for who and what I have in my life, rather than being resentful for what I had lost. I could not let my previous vision of my day-to-day life limit how I looked at my life for all of my tomorrows. I had to commit to a new way forward where I seek to love this and every moment. It's a commitment I'm making every day.
Our imagination is powerful beyond measure, so powerful that we can barely even comprehend our full capabilities for change. We are the only ones who place limits on our vision. The world is a wide-open space, a blank canvas that we color in to our own liking. If only we could recognize that, we'd be able to keep from painting ourselves into a corner. We can and should invent and re-invent ourselves over and over again. And as we take on that challenge of re-invention we inspire others to do the same. In truth nothing has to be as it is; it can all be changed.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Writing works a lot like those critical updates from Apple. Friends, family, and co-workers always ask me, “when do you find the time to do all of this writing?” Truthfully, I’m always writing. Sorry – this is my confession. My writing mind is always working in the background while I go about the rest of my life. When I’m having dinner with friends, at movies, at CVS buying shampoo, at work, I'm writing, tucking away little bits and pieces to use later. I’m one of those hopelessly nerdy people who always has a pen and piece of paper in my bag. Even when I’m heading to a big night out. You just never know when something interesting will happen. And I can’t be held responsible for keeping it all stuffed in my brain. I need that pen and paper.
I also purposely try to put myself in interesting situations. I seek out new people, go to lectures, book readings, and art exhibitions all the time. It’s one reason I am so in love with New York, and fall more in love with it everyday – there’s always something new to see, do, and try. New York and I have had a long and sordid history together. 11 years running. At times, we’ve been blissfully happy to be with one another and at other times, we’ve each gone running for the hills. But we always somehow end up back together, New York and I. This is my third time moving here, and I imagine you’ll find me here for a very long time to come. There’s just too much going on here for me to be away for that long. My writing lives and breathes here.
I’ve been wondering how Apple knows what to fix and how to fix it in these updates. My only idea is that it goes out into the world and takes stock of the latest software landscape to make needed improvements. I do the same thing in my writing. In the past year, I’ve been sending myself out on little writing adventures in New York. Odd-ball museums, sitting in a crowded area and eaves-dropping, going to parts of town I never frequent without a map and getting as lost as possible. On Saturday, I’ll be heading to the Demolition Depot on 125th Street. It contains 4 floors and a garden full of architecture pieces from every conceivable period. When buildings are dismantled all over New York City, most of the pieces end up at the Demolition Depot.
Can you imagine what crazy things that place stores? While I’m sure there’s a fair amount of mundane items like antique faucets, I’m equally sure that there are valuable items that will inspire my writing. A fireplace that I’ll imagine someone sitting before, a gargoyle who faithfully watched over a busy street for many years, a mirror where a young girl watched herself become a woman. You see – inspiration is everywhere; you just need to keep looking, especially in unlikely places.
My fingers are getting itchy. Just writing about writing is giving me some ideas. This writing mind of mine is working in the background and it’s almost time for me to reboot to see all of the changes that have occurred in the past few minutes. In the time it’s taken me to write this post, some more dots have connected, and I have to make sure to get this all down before it’s hopelessly lost in the abyss. I’d like to think I’m a recovering multi-tasker, though as with most addictions, I guess I’ll always be in a constant state of recovery, never quite cured of my desire to do multiple things at once. Thank goodness for background processing!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
On the 17th floor of my apartment building, I feel a little closer to what's miraculous and sacred in our world. In the past few weeks I have felt some energy driving me toward something new; I've felt my life taking on a different kind of meaning. Last night as I was getting my apartment ready for the movers to arrive, I had my music on, washing my new kitchen supplies and watching the sun sink down behind those lovely water towers. In one moment I felt intensely overcome with gratitude, as if my heart had opened up in a way that it never has before. There seemed to be so many opportunities laid out before me and all I had to do was select one, like taking a book from a shelf.
I began to tick through my personal relationships and all of the strength and hope and inspiration that I find in each of them. I started to recall kindnesses and favors and support that I've been offered, not just in the past few weeks but as far back as I can remember. I wanted to give the whole world a great big hug, followed by a great big thank you, for everything.
I wonder if this feeling, this sense of belonging has been available to me along and I just didn't see it or didn't know how to tap into it. I'm intrigued by the difference between looking and seeing, by how often we run around desperately seeking that which inevitably ends up being right in front of us. What if we just stopped, for a brief moment, and saw with a new kind of clarity the many blessings we have, recognized are tremendous capacity for change, for goodness, for creation.
We can construct a richer, happier, more meaningful existence, for ourselves and others, by tapping into the wisdom that is all around us, by recognizing that we are all always in this together. All of a sudden when we realize we aren't alone, when we recognize that there are ancient, fundamental learnings that connect us across generations, across the globe, across time continuums, our feelings of loneliness and isolation are replaced by community and love. The impossible becomes not only possible, but imminent.
To read the full article, please click here.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
"Dear friends around the world,
The events of this day cause every thinking person to stop their daily lives, whatever is going on in them, and to ponder deeply the larger questions of life. We search again for not only the meaning of life, but the purpose of our individual and collective experience as we have created it-and we look earnestly for ways in which we might recreate ourselves anew as a human species, so that we will never treat each other this way again.
The hour has come for us to demonstrate at the highest level our most extraordinary thought about Who We Really Are. There are two possible responses to what has occurred today. The first comes from love, the second from fear.
If we come from fear we may panic and do things -as individuals and as nations- that could only cause further damage. If we come from love we will find refuge and strength, even as we provide it to others.
This is the moment of your ministry. This is the time of teaching. What you teach at this time, through your every word and action right now, will remain as indelible lessons in the hearts and minds of those whose lives you touch, both now, and for years to come.
We will set the course for tomorrow, today. At this hour. In this moment. Let us seek not to pinpoint blame, but to pinpoint cause. Unless we take this time to look at the cause of our experience, we will never remove ourselves from the experiences it creates. Instead, we will forever live in fear of retribution from those within the human family who feel aggrieved, and, likewise, seek retribution from them.
To us the reasons are clear. We have not learned the most basic human lessons. We have not remembered the most basic human truths. We have not understood the most basic spiritual wisdom. In short, we have not been listening to God, and because we have not, we watch ourselves do ungodly things.
The message we hear from all sources of truth is clear: We are all one. That is a message the human race has largely ignored. Forgetting this truth is the only cause of hatred and war, and the way to remember is simple: Love, this and every moment.
If we could love even those who have attacked us, and seek to understand why they have done so, what then would be our response? Yet if we meet negativity with negativity, rage with rage, attack with attack, what then will be the outcome?
These are the questions that are placed before the human race today. They are questions that we have failed to answer for thousands of years. Failure to answer them now could eliminate the need to answer them at all.
If we want the beauty of the world that we have co-created to be experienced by our children and our children's children, we will have to become spiritual activists right here, right now, and cause that to happen. We must choose to be at cause in the matter.
So, talk with God today. Ask God for help, for counsel and advice. For insight and for strength and for inner peace and for deep wisdom. Ask God on this day to show us how to show up in the world in a way that will cause the world itself to change. And join all those people around the world who are praying right now, adding your Light to the Light that dispels all fear.
That is the challenge that is placed before every thinking person today. Today the human soul asks the question: What can I do to preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and to eliminate the anger and hatred-and the disparity that inevitably causes it - in that part of the world which I touch?
Please seek to answer that question today, with all the magnificence that is You. What can you do TODAY...this very moment? A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience, provide for another.
Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience-in your own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe.
If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things, help another to better understand. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.
Those others are waiting for you now. They are looking to you for guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding, and for assurance at this hour. Most of all, they are looking to you for love.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Now that life is returning to normal, I’m turning my attention back to my education project. I’m in the early stages of contacting public schools to find one that will serve as a pilot test. In a nutshell, I am looking to use theatre as a tool to teach innovation and product development to 6th graders at New York City public schools. The program will be of no cost to the school or to the children who participate. I just need a space, an internet connection (if possible), and 10 curious 6th graders. I would personally finance the pilot. The idea is to run it for 12 weeks beginning in January of 2010.
At this point I’ve had about 15 people read the proposal and provide their feedback and suggestions. Their creativity and excitement has spurred me even further. They’re helping me dream bigger, far beyond the pilot. Just as Faulkner suggested, this thinking bigger has allowed me to move beyond just seeing this program as a dream. It’s something that I must do. It’s quickly becoming my greatest passion, and that’s exactly what I need to happen in order to get it off the ground.
For the past few days, it’s all I’ve been able to think about. Things I see and experience and read are all tying back to this dream. This morning I was so excited about it that I could barely stay in my chair at my computer. I’m getting little inputs from everywhere – what schools I could partner with, what material I should include, what mechanisms I should use to deliver the material. Like small interconnected building blocks, all these bits and pieces are fitting together, filling in the canvas I’m dreaming on.
The more I consider the pilot program, the more I realize that it is inevitable. All the clues I’m picking up are showing me that there is much more need for this program than I ever realized. It began as this tiny speck of an idea, and the more I nurture it and love it, the more new opportunities it presents. It’s the most beautiful thing about ideas and dreams, and people for that matter: the more care you put into them, the more understanding and freedom you provide to them, the lovelier and more viable they become. They reveal mysteries to you that you never even knew were possible.
The image above is not my own. It can be found on the Cardiomyopathy Association site.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
A week ago, I found myself in Barnes & Noble nosing around in the children's fiction department. In order to begin working on the scripts for my education program, I wanted to get a feel for a 6th grader's vocabulary, sentence structure, and plot complexity. I was wandering around the store feeling underwhelmed. Where were all of the good children's books?
And then just as I was leaving a small set of books caught my eye. Published by Scholastic, Blue Balliett wrote a set of kids mystery books that involve several main characters that carry over in the series. I picked up The Wright 3, a book about three 6th grade friends who find themselves in a race to save the Robie House, Frank Lloyd Wright's Chicago masterpiece, from demolition. I found it oddly comforting over this last week because of several key messages it offers in a very forthright fashion - just the way that kids do.
1.) "Don't give up. In darkness, much work can be accomplished." I think about how much darkness was in that stairwell of my old apartment building during the fire. So much raced through my mind as I scrambled down the stairs - from "stop drop and roll" to things I never got a chance to say people whom I care about to "I will get out of this building unharmed". In darkness, we develop a keen sense of sight and insight for things that we cannot see in broad daylight.
2.) "Sometimes when you lose something, you end up getting something else. Only you can't know about the second thing until you've lost the first...losing is sometimes gaining." It's human nature to lament a loss of any kind whether it's our home, our belongings, our jobs, a relationship. What's so often under-appreciated is that losing something makes room for something new, and often better than what we had before, and it gives us a new appreciation for the things and people we do have in our lives. It takes a while to see that trade-off as a good one. In the past I have hung on to a sense of loss for far too long. I am trying to change that.
3.) "It's sometimes hard to tell the line between real and unreal." This world and the energies it contains work in mysterious ways. Magic and things that cannot be explained are constantly at work. Our life is full of coincidences. People appear in our lives, then disappear, then reappear again. An opportunity comes around, we may pass on it, and then it comes around again for a second and third chance. This world always has something to teach us.
4.) "Sometimes little things can appear big, and big things little." This idea is especially powerful for me this week. I used to think I needed so many things. My apartment was filled with things I loved, things I could not imagine living without. In the end very little of it mattered. Actually, none of it really matters too much. My health and the people I love are really the only things that matter to me now.
5.) "What you notice first isn't always what you're looking for." This is my favorite idea from The Wright 3. We're so quick to judge, categorize and title a person, place, or thing. And sometimes the value we connote to an item or a person isn't permanent. Some things and people become more valuable to us with time, and it can be a long, slow process to figure out just what the right value should be. We owe it to ourselves to give things and people a chance to prove their worth. The reality of a situation is not always what it initially presents itself to be.