Moving Mental Furniture


I rearranged my living room furniture. Which is to say, I pointed to various locations and said to my husband, “there, no I mean there, six inches that way, wait, no, over there is better.”

We’ve lived in our home for nine years, and we have both complained about the layout of the living room for almost as long. The chairs are too far away from each other, when you sit on the sofa, you look into a dark dining room, and there’s no place to put my tea (or wine, depending on how the day is going). Totally a first-world complaint.

Every time we contemplated moving things around, however,  we always decided that the alternatives, for a myriad of reasons, couldn’t possibly work. Plus, if we moved the sofa, we’d have to move the area rug, which means we’d find out just how dirty the area rug is. On the flip side, we’d find nine years worth of missing cat toys and maybe enough spare change to go out for dinner.

Rearranging the living room was sort of like middle-aged sex. When one of us was in the mood, the other was too tired, nursing a sore back, or in the middle of doing the taxes/laundry/reading a good book. Sunday, we finally decided we had nothing better to do than give the sofa a change of scenery.

Now that the furniture is re-arranged, the room finally feels like home. The traffic flow is more welcoming, the foyer is better defined, and that big picture window finally has a purpose. It’s funny how that works, isn’t it? We get so set in our ways, thinking there is only way way things could possibly work, until we try another way and find it works even better.

It made me wonder how other parts of my life are organized. I’ve struggled with redefining who I am with the Dude in college. Even though my time totally my own again, I’m feeling stalled, treading water through time. Maybe my mental furniture could use some rearranging.

If I change my habitual behaviors, my notions of what a “day” looks like, maybe I’d find a new corner with a view of the garden, or rediscover a story that I’d been looking at forever and not really seeing. If I let go of how things “were” or “should be” maybe my thoughts and energy would move in new directions.

If I release myself from expectations and the fear.maybe I’d trying something that doesn’t pan out, instead of living with something I know only works marginally well. After a few misses, I might find a place to put my teacup, or my glass of wine, depending upon how the day is going.

I’m ready to start rearranging the bedroom next. My husband says I can’t until I buy another bottle of Advil and learn the difference between right and left. Until that happens, I’ll have to be content with looking under my own sofa cushions. Heaven knows what I’ll find in there. I’ll be sure to let you know.

 

 

 

Behavior of an un-becoming parent

frogI sent the Dude a tiny frog. It’s supposed to bring him luck. Luck was the one thing he wanted most for me to send, aside from Pop-tarts and something to stop his typical winter to spring nosebleeds. They have a CVS not too far from campus, but I’m happy for something I can do for him, even if his father does think I spoil him. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be spoiling him if I bought him a car. A pack of NasalCease is not much of an indulgence.

I’m struggling with having him gone. As much as I love the freedom of my days, the lack of detritus in my car, and the ability to cook foods that not only touch each other, but intermingle, some days I still feel the warmth of his toddler-sized body on my shoulder. It’s an ache that goes through to the bone.

I miss his humor–the lightness of his spirit. When winter’s gray reaches in and curls its tentacles around my heart, I have to pry them off by myself. Some days it’s hard to conjure the will to try. He will always be my son, but he is no longer my child.

Which is why I can’t write about him anymore.

It’s not that he’s no longer entertaining, or interesting. Our common love of humor, baseball and Cadbury Robin’s Eggs are bound in our shared DNA, but his story is no longer mine to tell.

People have often asked what the Dude thinks about my writing, and I tell them I’m not writing about him. I’m writing about me. While they think they know him, they only know the Dude that exists within the context of my relationship with him. He was the sun at the center, and I wrote about the view from orbit.

Without his gravitational pull, I became untethered. My day was one big, blank page, and there is nothing a writer dreads more. I stared at the white space, reached for the words and found absolutely nothing.

I hunkered down in my sweats and watched television. I can attest that at any given time, some variant of Law & Order is airing somewhere on cable. Every so often, I’d haul myself out of hermitdom and do something drastic to bring me back to my life. I even dyed my hair pink. If I was looking for some sort of personal anchor, that wasn’t a good way to find it. It only made me feel more foreign to myself.

My only solution is to go back to the beginning, to strip away the habits and practices linked to my old life, and find the ones that serve the new. Like the Dude, I am a student, but in a different classroom.  He is learning how to become  who he will be.I am doing the same, but first I have to do the opposite. I will need to un-become the Dude’s Mom and experience what it means to be me absent of the label.

I need to face the empty page, and fill it with adventures of my own. I’ll need some luck. Maybe I’ll get a frog of my own.

Got the pink hair blues


I dyed my hair pink.

This was not the impulsive act of a 16 year-old girl. It was the impulsive act of a 51 year-old woman.

Dyeing my hair is not a new thing. My hair has been brown, blond, red, and as close as I could get to black without looking like Marilyn Manson. It’s been short, long, very short, even shorter, spiky, sleek, and permed a la the 1980’s. My philosophy has always been “it’s only hair,” and my hair grows fast. So when I saw the picture of the messy pink crop in the magazine I thought, “why not?”

I don’t ascribe to the idea that women “of a certain age”  have to conform to some acceptable form of dress. What does that mean, anyway? Aren’t we all a certain age no matter how old we are? I only question when people dress not as themselves, but who they wish they were but fear they are not.

Therein lay my problem. Did I want pink hair or did I want to be the kind of person who would dye her hair pink? While I was in the salon, I felt all badass and cool. Then I left the salon and went into Talbot’s.

I generally don’t shop at Talbot’s, but it was a 70% off sale. 70%–that’s a good deal, but I was not prepared for the looks. It wasn’t so much a look as it was a “I’m looking at your face and not at your hair” look, like when you’re talking to a guy with bad toupee. I left the mall with major wtf was I thinking regret.

My husband  knew I was considering the pink, but didn’t know I was actually doing it. He was complementary and said all of the right things, but he knew that I was a woman on the edge of a breakdown and behaved accordingly. My husband is awesome. He poured me a large glass of wine, gave me a reassuring hug and told me to own it. We decided that I’d imagine I was an Anime character–some sort of pixie librarian with a magical Almanac.

The next morning when I went to the grocery store, the pixie magic had worn off. I wore a hat. I never wear a hat. I just wasn’t ready to be conspicuous. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready. I’d have to stay in my house for the next six weeks. Thank god for Amazon prime.

I’m a stereotypical self-torturing artist. I am individualistic and self-expressive (hello, I have a blog) but as an introvert, really don’t want to draw attention to myself. I was afraid of what people assumed about my motives for having pink hair. I questioned my own motives for having pink hair. Was I trying to recapture my youth? Was I making a statement about aging, or fashion, or art? If I went to my stylist the next day and went back to brown hair, what would that say about me? Was I a coward, or just a woman who made a mistake in picking a hair color that clashed with everything but black and gray?

I had a good cry over it. My husband reminded me that I am not my hair, nor does my hair define me. It’s hair. I decided I would keep the pink hair and learn something from the experience. It was at least good for a blog post.

After all of that soul-searching for the reason why I did it?

Because I could. I thought it would be fun. If I was looking for some great revelation about self-perception, I didn’t find it, and If anyone else thinks I have a greater agenda, too bad. As for my judging people because I think they’re trying to be something they aren’t, shame on me. I don’t know you any better than I know myself.

I’m not keeping the pink hair forever, but I’m keeping it for now. For one, I’m afraid that if I bleach the pink my hair will fall out. Two, it fades quickly. My white towels are a sweet blush color at the moment. Three, I’m learning a lot about myself walking the universe with pink hair. I’m learning how to sit with my discomfort. I get a lot of positive reinforcement, which is nice, but the real challenge is owning my uniqueness and not being afraid of it, whether it’s my hair, or my politics, or my writing.

I suspect when my hair is brown again, I’ll miss the pink, but if I embrace this offbeat color while I have it, maybe some part of me will always bear a little streak of highlighter. And that’s nothing to feel blue over.

Regret

IMG_1115

One night I bottled up the moon and trapped her light in stoppered glass

Her milky glow lit up my room; I longed to have it for my own

“Just a taste” I said, yet knew with one I wouldn’t be content

I danced between each dreaming sip ’til every pearly drop was spent

I shivered cold beneath the night, and rued the day I drank her light

 

So every night before I slept, I sang before my windowsill

Apologies upon my lips in hopes that I could bring her home

I filled the bottle with my tears while wishing they would set her free

To spill her light across the sky, the opal in the violet sea

And promised I would never pine again for what should not be mine

 

Once I had cried the bottle full, how many nights I don’t recall

I woke to catch a glimmer slight, a flicker through the pearly glass

And ran to see she’d split the night, renewed in slivered silver grace

Each day she grew ’til fully bloomed, a smile bright upon her face

Forgiveness I had hoped to earn, bestowed on me when she returned

 

Though I have kept my vow in full, from time to time she leaves my view

Drunk by another greedy fool who thinks he can possess her glow

But no one can decanter long the moon without becoming night

Til sorrow bids us let her go so all can dance beneath her light

And cast off the regrets we keep,  and drift to unencumbered sleep

Snowpocolypse Now

IMG_1110

Barely visible, but still there

The catchphrases have begun. #SnOMG, Snowpocolypse, Snowmaggeddon, Snowzilla. It’s not quite a blizzard yet. I can still see the sheep lawn ornament in the backyard. My husband says he is a lamb. I disagree. He may be small, but he has an old soul. His eyes hold the secrets of the ages.

I call him Shaun (Wallace and Gromit fans, unite). He was a Christmas gift from my father-in-law. He asked us all what we thought was in the enormous box, and my husband and son guessed electronics of some sort, while I yelled “A PONY!” He told me I wasn’t too far off. My father-in-law rocks.

IMG_1111

This is what virtuous cookies look like

Last night, since we still had power, I made oatmeal cookies. I ate them for breakfast, because who knows when I’ll be able to eat again. I momentarily ignored the fact that we have plenty of food and still have power, because, well, cookies. I made them with whole wheat flour and toasted wheat germ, so they are virtuous.

The hubs ventured out early to plow the driveway. I grabbed his hand and said “Don’t go out to the barn Pa! Let me at least tie a rope around your waist.” Apparently boys that grow up in Upper East Side NYC do not read Little House on the Prairie.  I did not get up to help.

I know I should, but my husband can clear the entire drive in the time it takes me to shovel the walkway. I used to, but remembered that I don’t like the cold, and that it as never as fun as I imagine it to be, and when I throw snowballs at John he doesn’t find it charming. He responds in kind and has much better aim than I do.

When I begin to feel guilty I remember the grocery store trips before the storm and the cooking I did in advance to make sure we had food after the power goes out because the power always goes out. During the last big storm John built a predictive data model of outage patterns and restoration times because that’s how we roll around here. It doesn’t change the outcome, but we feel superior when our estimates are correct.

I never sleep well when we lose power. Not because it’s cold, but because the hum of a neighborhood full of generators is surprisingly loud. One neighbor turns on his backyard floodlight to let us all know he’s got it covered. It’s bright enough, however, to let me see how fast Shaun is getting buried with snow.

As much as I hate the cold, I have a soft spot for snowstorms. Growing up, I’d tightrope-walk along the huge piles of snow that ringed the road in front of our house, and build snowmen in the backyard. When I lived in Chicago, John and I used to walk in Lincoln Park while the entire city hushed to listen to the snow fall, and in Evanston we’d chuckle when the police would drive through the streets at 2 a.m. with bullhorns telling people to move their parked cars so the plows could get through. In Boston, the Dude saw snow for the first time, and tunneled through drifts like a commando, and we built forts in the backyard where we drank cocoa at night.

When the power fails, I snuggle up to my man, pull up another comforter, and conjure these memories to stay warm.

And read by the light of my neighbor’s floodlight.

Stay warm, people.

Snowstorm Survival Tips From a Northern Girl


D.C. is facing the end of the world as we know it, and I’m not talking about the possible presidency of Donald Trump. I’m talking about the really scary stuff. I’m talking about snow.

Last night we got less than an inch and the city went into a panic before the panic. You think gridlock in Washington is bad? Visit D.C. during winter. My husband cleared the driveway with a broom. School was canceled.

Starting tomorrow, we’re supposed to get amounts that measure in feet rather than inches. I grew up in Michigan, and as the old joke goes, we call that Tuesday, but folks around here are talking locusts and plagues. I’ve given up shaking my head over the capitol’s inability to deal with snow.  The amount of chaos caused by winter weather is inversely proportional to the population’s experience with it, so basically, I’m staying home until it melts.

As a public service, however, I will share my wealth of experience and give you some hints for getting through snowmaggedon.

Buy toilet paper. Today, the grocery store checkout had the feel of a cold-war era Russian food line, only the bread was gluten free and the milk was from organic grass-fed cows.  The bottled water section was stripped clean, save for one case of Poland Spring, which two women fought over like a Dooney & Bourke handbag at  a Macy’s one star sale.

What puzzled me however, was the lack of activity in the paper aisle. While carts were filled to the brim with smoked salmon and brie (bless the whole-house generator), not a single person was buying toilet paper.

Paper goods, people. Don’t be a newb.

Buy Wine. I know they say wine induces hypothermia, but huddling under a comforter with a box of Cheerios is much better with a bold Pinot Noir.

If it’s rechargeable, charge it now, and use charged items wisely. My son used his phone as a flashlight the last time we lost power, despite having a battery operated one at his feet. I reminded him that if he ran down his phone, he wouldn’t be able to text “Do you have power yet?” to his friends every five minutes. I could hear his eyes roll in the dark.

Have the power company number on your cellphone. When the power goes out, your landline will no longer work. It will also be dark (because the power always goes out when it’s dark) and the account number on your bill is barely readable in daylight. I know that you’re supposed to be able to call in with your phone number, but when was the last time that worked for you?

Find your candles and flashlights now.  If you can’t remember where they are, think about the least convenient place you can think of, since that’s probably where you put them thinking “I’ll never forget that I put them here.”

While you still have power make the kids shower. This is not the time to humor one’s hygienically challenged teen. They can do it while the water is warm, or take their chances later. Even without power I have my limits. I don’t care if the kid barely brushes his teeth most days, after two days of peanut butter and tuna, these niceties are no longer optional. Even the women of Lost managed to shave their armpits.

 

Use the generator wisely. Who knows how long you have to make the fuel last. First priority? The septic and sump pumps. Number two? The refrigerator.  Next? Lights? Heat? Nope. The internet.

Alleviate some of that pre-storm anxiety by making catching up binge watching musts. My recommendation? Mozart in the Jungle. Two seasons worth of episodes will burn quite a few hours, and Gael Garcia Bernal makes me feel very, very warm.

Unless your family is full of good sports, hide the board games. You’re stuck together in the dark and cold for god knows how long.  Especially if the bad sport in your family is the one who controls the food and knows where the toilet paper is. Don’t test me–I hold grudges. Pass the Pinot.

Most important, remember this isn’t that bad. If you’re reading this, you have a home, with a computer and a heater and probably a full refrigerator, even if you might be low on toilet paper. A snowstorm can actually be kind of fun, and snuggling up is the best way to stay warm. If your fireplace is like mine, and is more ornamental than functional, stream the Darth Vader Yule Log on your IPad, pour another glass of Pinot, and make peace with the weather. It’s a great excuse not to do laundry.

These things are never as bad as the media says they’ll be, except for when they’re worse. In either case, be safe, be wise, and if you’re bored, you can binge-read back essays on my blog.

Carpe Diem Nix. Seize the Snow Day.

 

Making Life Practice my B****


As a musician, much of my life revolves around the idea of practice. Most kids will tell you that practicing sucks. My friends with kids bitch about practice logs they need to (forge) sign and turn in to music teachers fighting for priority with the other hours of assigned homework each night.

I’ve given lots of advice about practice mindset, practice strategy, and practice goal-setting. Practicing music is a joy for me, not a chore. When it comes to music, practice isn’t a bitch, it’s my bitch.

Most people will say that practicing is repeating something over and over again in order to achieve some goal. I don’t like this definition. It reminds me too much of those days locked in my room playing the same phrase over and over again, often worse off at the end than when I started.

Practice is no more than the real world application of theoretical principles. Simply put, stop thinking about how to do it and do it. Practice is not about getting it right. Practice is about getting it wrong, mindfully.

When it comes down to it, is practicing music is any different than practicing anything, be it yoga, healthful eating, or writing? What about being a better listener, or a more patient parent, or putting down the IPhone and taking in the moment? Why don’t I practice life like I practice music?

My yoga teacher talked about practice yesterday, and how it’s a daily commitment–a choice. To grow, we have to embrace the discomfort,and let go of the ego enough to explore. I am too often focused on accomplishing some end state. Wrong goal.

The goal of practice is integrity. The alignment of idea and action.When one achieves alignment, energy travels without interruption . That’s the goal, right? For the words to flow like water, to run without touching ground, to savor every bite of life until your soul is full?

If you want to align something you don’t jam it into place and bingo, you’re done. You have to fuss with it, explore the boundaries, experiment to see how different actions give a different result. You have to practice.

You also have to get some humility.

Sometimes, I’ve worked a difficult passage until I have it down cold, but then blow it when I have to play it outside of my practice room. Is it that my fingers don’t know the shapes, the placement, the correct bow tension to produce a sound? Not really. It’s that I get close to the passage and that little voice says “Hey Heifitz, here comes that passage. Don’t fuck it up.”

Why don’t we accept that our nature is to err, and embrace it? After all, that’s all practice is. Instead of saying “I effed up” I can say “I’m out of alignment.” Not because I can’t deal with screwing up and need some sort of feel-good double-speak. It’s because mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They are the world. It’s because it’s often my fear of failure, or the fear of feeling like a failure that keeps me from practicing in the first place.

I know it sounds all new-agey of me, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Practice takes time. It takes commitment. It takes patience. It takes a sense of humor and more than a little forgiveness. Practice takes love.

So what is it you want to practice?