Monday morning I say prayers for the spirits of Syrians killed by poisonous gas and for the people who love them. I pick dead blossoms from the three big pots of pansies and pull soft, fuzzy, pale green weeds nestled among them. (I’ve decided to do one task each morning toward a clean courtyard.) I break off a pansy bud by mistake. I set it in water, place the small glass beside my bed. The deep purple against the white wood and the soft curve of the tiny stem makes me cry. I cook brown rice, pack pears and peanuts for my snack between writing group and sangha. I still want to do my sitting practice and a tiny bit of yoga before I have to leave, so I keep my writing short. I cry more often these days, small things like the bread and butter or the pansy life stopped short. Big things like dead bodies in Syria, like being afraid about my health or feeling like a failure. But they are brief, quick moments only, and I tend to be kind to myself when they arise. I count to 29 to blend my garlic lemon drink for my liver, and I remember seeing Amma in the grocery store last night, how much better she looked. The memory makes me glad for her, grateful for her Tibetan doctor. And in the same breath, still counting seconds while the blender fills the room with its loud machine noise, I recognize again the part of me who still believes nothing I do will ever be enough. The tears come, but so does a deep certainty that I am healing (louder than that other voice? louder than the blender?) and a wash of dearness for myself and my good efforts.
I read Sylvia Boorstein’s Happiness Is an Inside Job more than once. Toward the beginning, she describes how she talks to herself when she gets startled. Sweetheart,” she says, “you are in pain. Relax. Take a deep breath. Let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” I have read this before, but one day it clicks in. I become startled so easily and so often. I begin practicing with this. I try it out right away when I get a disturbing email from my work. It keeps me from spinning out into stories about what I’m being asked to do, mostly how it’s “not fair.” (They still arise, but I don’t dwell in them.) It makes so much sense to me. There is a bit of the, “Duh!” about it for me. I have been trying to learn how to not be reactive to people, to reach for kindness. But of course I need to re-establish my connection to myself first before that becomes possible. I practice the sweetheart approach again and again. I am so excited, certain I have found a way to interrupt my autopilot after all these decades. Later I discover I am still not very good at this in the heat of the moment when other people are involved. Maybe I need to learn to catch it still in the startle, in the fear. Maybe when I get to the anger it’s too late. I am deflated. But my optimism ekes back in. I know I’m not giving up.
Today starts out well and ends well but goes south a bit in between. I feel myself being judgmental and critical of the woman who cuts my hair—who I like. When Ralph’s is out of bird seed, I go grumbling to CVS and pay twice as much. I listen to my mind when I walk between the stores, some crazy, twisted descent, like everything in the world is now crummy. Back at Ralph’s again, I finally ask why I haven’t seen Mark, and I find out he’s been promoted. He’s no longer here. I had already made my gloomy descent, but this is beyond awful. For me, Mark was the heart of this store, the one who fostered kindness and generosity in everyone who works here. I walk to the checkout. “Everything changes,” I say. But I have been so in love with my grocery store. I can feel all my hope for it oozing away. And for the first time, all the lines are long. I walk up and down twice, dejected and blue. A Latino American man holding one Corona gets my attention, waves me in front of him in line. I try to argue, I have a handful of things to his one lone beer. But he insists. I tell him he’s going to make me cry. “Voy a llorar.” It feels like such a blessing, this kindness. We wish each other well before I go. I ride my bike home, my good cheer restored. What a long, funny day.
I dream of a man with a huge head. He has dark skin and black hair, maybe Italian or Mexican or even of Middle Eastern heritage. His features seem familiar, but I can’t place them. His mouth is frozen open as though he’s in mid-scream, his eyes wide and crazed. But he is talking, animated, somewhere below his face. It’s as if his animated features are semi-transparent and floating beneath his frozen face, his neck and shoulder and upper chest visible behind them. It takes me a while to understand what is happening. At first I think his head is huge and ugly, but then I grow accustomed to it and begin to see what’s going on. I see him standing beside his wife. He is very tall, and his frozen head no longer seems out of proportion. I have the sense that if he continues with his emotional work he’ll be able to unlock his face. It must have frozen in a moment of terror. But I know he can free it up again by thawing, feeling, releasing. Later, I think about how I have my own terrors frozen inside me, and I feel comforted by my certainty that thawing is possible.
I hope this flurry of posts isn’t annoying anyone. It’s only that I don’t want to give up on meeting my goal of 59 posts while I’m 59. Now I’m only eight posts behind where I should be (instead of 15 behind, which sounded much more daunting). I have every hope that my days ahead will return me to my self and the kind of writing I love. That I will find ways to weave my dreams or my daydreams into my daily life (and into my blog posts again) in a way that feels right and satisfying to me. I have a hunch I might be getting close to a kind of return to that, to making room for my writing, room for things to unfold as they will. But I’m not certain. So, in the meantime, I’m going to see if I can’t just post things anyway. Here you had a smattering of short timed writings from prompts. Oh, and I decided I can even claim that fiction is a kind of dream, yes? Or maybe I’m just using poetic license here. But claiming I am. (It makes me feel like I am still sticking to the intention of this year’s blog.) And I’m hoping you’ll be glad to see something from me, too, even if it comes in a mad flurry, even if it’s mostly short, odd bursts of imagination. Because I notice I’m missing feeling connected to you here, so I’m glad to be back. And I’ll hope to keep it up, accepting what comes. Wishing you all good things as we near this ending of our year. And thank you for still being here reading.
Longing to me is about being in a body, like Zora Neale Hurston and our little mudballs, wanting to “show our shine.” I think the earth herself holds a kind of longing in her, a kind of yearning or ache, a sadness, maybe. To me it’s all wrapped up together, these clumps of earth us, what it means to be a being in a body, longing to belong, the impermanence of things in this life we live.
[Editor’s note: written from a prompt from Creative Writing Prompts.]
In the weeks after I return home from my time in the eastern Sierras, I dream again and again of water. I steer a wooden boat with a long pole on a small river. I stand in the prow, high above the water. It’s the same boat I imagined the heroine of my fantasy novel navigating on the Petaluma River. I don’t know if the boat exists in this world or not, but it feels real. I don’t know what river I’m on, but I move along its quiet edges between the sandy shore and small islands, clumps of sand and boulders, a small tree. I have a sense these clusters of things, this water, this earth, are practicing a ritual, like candles or clay or trees or moving water, that I am joining them somehow, that I am partaking in these river rituals, too. Each time I wake up, I am left with only the feeling of the dream. But I know these dreams are somehow healing me.