Friday, December 31, 2010

the place time stays

The place time stays
and does not grow, each breath illumined
endways, endless
changeless, still.

The place a face
is held until
each thought crosses,
is redeemed,

The place we hold
and hold, and hold
and do not change,
fully unfold,

Where changes, if they come,
are counterpoint
to just the
the endlessness,

the place time says
we are---

Things have been moving too quickly for my liking. This year hardly seems to have been here at all, and my children are growing so quickly, and there are times when I look up at the bare branches of the sweetgum tree outside my house and could swear they were covered in flaming red leaves just a moment ago.

To remedy this almost panicked sense of ceaseless change, I moved really slowly yesterday. When I woke, I lit candles and did gentle yoga, and then sat in the garden to drink a cup of tea as idly as i could manage. I watched the steam curl up in long strands of early sunlight and let my eyes follow the first waking motions of the winter birds in the lemon tree.

As the day warmed I packed up my paints and my notebook and cycled down to the ocean, slowly, stopping to pick dandelions and watch herons and dip my toes in the suddenly furious waters of Ballona creek. I dug myself into the shelter of a dune and painted the ocean. I leaned up against the edge of a bridge and painted the San Gabriel mountains. I sat in a tea shop and wrote poetry and nursed a cup of hot cider for nearly an hour (breaking my record of 43 minutes with the morning tea!)

On my way home I stopped to do tai chi in my old neighborhood, drawing it out until the sun set. I walked to the grocery store, stopping to greet every single person I came across. I carried my groceries home, breathing in the crisp air and watching the clouds cross the first stars.

Time passes, whether I acknowledge it or not. It was nice to take one day to look time fully in the face. And to appreciate this place I am, now, whether or not it is my final winter here.

There is lots of other drama, but as this secret blog is becoming not-so-secret, I am finding it more and more difficult to adhere to the goal of radical honesty I began with. Sigh.

May we all find new understanding in the transformations of this new year. And may it take a little more time to pass than the last one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

hitching a ride on the fashion train

(Yeah, I know, it's called 'trainhopping', but it didn't sound right: "trainhopping the fashion train". Too many "train"s.)

A lot has happened in the past week. Two men have told me they love me. My ex sent the police round at 3 am on Christmas to shine lights in the faces of my children. Plans for the future have been reworked. A broken relationship with my brother has been forged anew. I built a wood shed from scratch. The roof has sprung a leak.

But what I really want to write about is the outfit I wore this evening to the ballet.

You see, this friend and this friend and even this friend---basically all the bloggers I know---write a lot about clothes. And having recently purged my tiny space of every article of clothing I ever wore during my marriage, the few pieces that are left have taken on a special significance.

Years ago, when I was working at an organic farm and yoga center, the charismatic fellow who'd founded the place told me the origin of the word 'cosmetic'. It is derived from the greek word 'kosmos' and originally referred to the special paints, costumes, and jewelry that temple priestesses would put on to align themselves with the particular energetics of the day. I like that. I like thinking of the clothes we put on as a blessing, as a message, as a way to align ourselves with the seasons and our own internal landscapes.

So when my friend invited me to the ballet this evening I promptly put on my favorite purple tights from Target (girls size 14 tights---which will stretch to fit just about anyone---are only $1.99, as opposed to the quite boring ones in women's that cost $14.99).

I was feeling festive so I put on my candy-cane-striped strapless dress, found this summer at a yard sale for $3. But it is cold. So over that, like any good acolyte of Shelayna's, I layered two sweaters. One is a lacy sweater that I thought was a dress when I bought it at goodwill for $2 but later found out is a size 18XX top. So it gapes open a bit, which I fixed with my grandmother's cameo brooch.

Still cold, I added a sweater bought last week at yet another goodwill for $4. As for the necklace, that started life as a pair of leaf earrings that I bought at a yard sale. $1. My ears aren't pierced, so I detached the leaves and turned them into pendants. I gave one to a friend---the one I went to the ballet with!---and haven't taken the other off since I made it. I like the witchy way it makes me feel. The pashmina silk/cashmere scarf was another yard sale find for $2. Culver City. I tell you.

This concludes my blatant Shelayna/Laura spinoff. Man that was fun.

After the ballet my friend and I clogged for three hours to an old Gillian Welch album and she taught me to use her spinning wheel. Life goes on.

Monday, December 20, 2010

drawing down the moon

these cold days in north carolina:

xir, splitting wood with his grandfather

anainn, fearlessly feeding horses

crystalline light of solstice full moon spilling through branches of trees i had forgotten could grow so tall

strange conjoining of memory and reality, past and present, into one very confusing life

extraordinarily painful revelations

deep love from unexpected sources

"you are what makes life worthwhile"

guinea fowl with their strange, panicked call

the crack of splitting ice on a frozen lake

learning not to speak. watching how others live.

blue light travelling from the tips of my fingers through the balls of my feet: lady, lend me strength to be and do all that i might be and do this year

may we all find light in this longest night, and happy solstice to all

Friday, December 17, 2010

female rains

that's what the Dineh call these long, soaking, gentle days. as opposed to male rains, which are the lightning storms, sudden and dramatic, an onslaught that is quickly over.

i love the female rains. i woke early this morning and smudged the whole house with cedar, lit a candle, and took off on a walk through the low clouds. everything seems to be breathing on these days, rain-soaked and calm and alive. little touches of the sacred are everywhere. these are the days i remember to take a bath of salt as the evening winds down, to reconnect with the ocean and the womb and release anything but gratitude. these are the days i hold my children's hands and sing over dinner, bring out the guitar to carol together before they sleep, simmer the peelings and cuttings of vegetables to make broth for later. these are the days i remember to register where the moon is in the sky, how deeply i am breathing, which herbs are ready to harvest.

it takes so little--those flickers of connection here and there--to remember how deep life can go. i thank these rains for bringing it all back to me in their gentle, lifegiving way.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

moon time.

Have any of you ever stopped to wonder why we menstruate? It doesn't make much sense, when you think about it. It is, for one thing, dangerous, as I learned on my first solo wilderness expedition.

I was sleeping in my debris hut on my third day out, after a successful day of digging tubers and setting traps. A sort of snuffling sound woke me, and I was instantly alert, adrenaline coursing through my body. There was nowhere to go---debris huts are like little coffins, and once you've wedged yourself in you can't get yourself out in a hurry---and for this reason I'd carefully disposed of all the food I'd cooked and rubbed my skin with charcoal from the fire to absorb the food smell before going to sleep. But something was on my scent. In the next moment I knew who: a clawed paw knocked a new door into my hut and barely missed my thigh. It was a bear. I scrambled out of the new entrance, shouting, which confused the bear enough that it shambled away after a few more deeply interested sniffs at the leaves of my bedding.

It was a few hours before I could think clearly enough to wonder what had attracted the bear. You guessed it: I had begun menstruating, and the scent of the blood had drawn him to me. Might have been nice if my (male) survival instructor thought to mention this possibility! Though, really, it's a little embarrassing that I didn't think of it on my own.

So why on earth put every human female at an increased risk for predatory attack, every month, during her most fertile years? Doesn't that seem like a bad strategy for the survival of the species? There are a few other mammals who menstruate, though for most it is only a few drops, hardly noticeable. Lots of species simply resorb their ovarian linings every month instead of wasting the precious blood and energy reserves. Why don't we do the same?

There are several theories floating around. One is that the energy cost of keeping some lining in the uterus perpetually (as the resorbers do) is simply too high for such large creatures as we bipeds. Another is that menstruation signals the lack of a pregnancy so that swift action can be taken to remedy this oversight ( impregnate that sucker!). My favorite is the cleansing theory, or the idea that menstrual blood carries away harmful bacteria or disease organisms that might have entered via intercourse. There is a lovely poetry in the thought that this fluid, thought so 'unclean' by so many major traditions, is actually the opposite and might even account for the longer lives of females.

When I first moved to California, I was a young and strongheaded creature. I'd lived in my new home, a permaculture community in Pomona, for about 10 days when I calmly built a moon hut in the corner and stayed there for the duration of my menstruation, writing poetry and bleeding into a special sage-filled hole in the ground. I couldn't understand why anyone would have a problem with this. I mean, there weren't any bears around or anything!

I've grown some, and I no longer make a big production out of my moon time. I treasure it as a signal to retreat, to look within, to step back from all the activity and bustle of life. Perhaps, in the end, this is why we menstruate. Predators are out there! What a great chance for women to stay in the caves, and rest. Built-in rest days for the most put-upon gender. I get it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

wading through the hard stuff.

I was talking with a rather stunning friend of mine today about how quickly we can get derailed by others' opinions. I mean, there I was yesterday, preening about how doggone great I am, and here I am after one horrible phone call, sincerely doubting my ability to do....well.....anything.

Tonight was Xir's holiday concert. He's been practicing for weeks, getting the little hand signals down, adjusting his santa hat in the mirror. He wanted me to help him get ready. So I biked over after work to pick Xir up, as arranged, and was met instead by his father. Long story short, he summarily dismissed me and I had to leave before we caused a scene. I walked for a few blocks to cool off, then called to find out what on earth was going on.

The gist: according to him, I have bad energy. So bad that simply being around my children causes them to be sick and sleepless. So bad that if I wanted Xir to be able to attend his own holiday concert, I would need to BACK OFF (his emphasis) and let Xir rest all afternoon, free of my horrible influence, so that he could recuperate enough to go.

Crazy, right? Here's the sick part: all I have to do is hear this to partially believe it. I'm ready to assume the worst of myself, at any time. Oh, he has a point, one part of me muses, while the other is shouting classy obscenities into the phone (you know, like "weakminded buffoon" and "ludicrously unsubtle manipulator", that sort of thing. Better than "poopyhead" which is what I like to call him when I'm at home.)

Because, the thing is, all of us know our innermost dark secrets. I know, or at least dimly suspect, what evils I am capable of. I know that I have my weaknesses as a mother. I know that the boys sleep more when they are at his house. So I can easily find the grains of truth even in the worst insults. Which makes this kind of heavy-handed ladling-on-of-guilt an excellent tactic: suddenly the burden is on me to defend myself from his allegations and attention is shifted from the matter at hand...and also, from his own deficiencies as a person and parent.

But--bless that rocket scientist boyfriend of mine!--before I take all of that on, I need to look critically at the evidence.

1. What am I being asked to believe? That I am a bad influence on my children and they are healthier without me. That I am doing a bad job as a mother.

2. What evidence is there to support this claim? The kids don't sleep much at my house. I yell at them sometimes. I don't feed them as well as I could. They don't have their own rooms or a car or lots of playdates. I get really worn out when I'm with them and am not at my best.

3. Are there other ways to interpret this evidence? Yeah. Maybe they don't sleep well at my house because they are so happy to be around me and want to stay awake for it! And they sleep at his house because he's boring! And who said a mother has to be at her best all the time? That just proves that I'm tired, not that I have evil energy.

4. What additional evidence would be necessary to rule out the alternative interpretations? Let's see. We could isolate Xir from me for a while and see if he miraculously and spontaneously recovers and never falls ill again. We could make his father magically interesting and fun to be around and see if the kids still slept constantly at his house. Or wait, I know! We could give FULL CUSTODY to ME and see if eventually they began sleeping well because they knew I would always be there!

5. What is the most reasonable conclusion to make at this time? The boys' dad is a poopyhead.

If I could only remember to run through these five steps every time life cuts me down. (What am I being asked to believe? That I'm not pretty enough. What am I being asked to believe? That I need to own certain things to be a viable member of society. What am I being asked to believe? That I'm not doing my job well enough.)

If only I could remember to use it when my friends are hurting, or my children are confused, or I'm too hard on myself. It's so easy to believe the hurtful things. I don't want to do that anymore.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

this is what it's like.

Dear Lissa of 10 years hence,

Here is what your life is like right now.

4 am: 2-year-old is up for the day. There will be no more sleep for you. Finally you accept this and get up, tossing the bedding into a furious pile in a fit of pique when you realize it is keeping you from opening the refrigerator. Remember that? You lived in a really, really small house.

4:30 am: to keep from screaming at your exhausted, whiny, runny-nosed infant and his propensity for throwing various glasses of fluid all over everything after taking just one sip and then begging piteously for another glass of a different kind of fluid until finally you cave and yup, he tosses that one all over everything too, you stand in horse and do grim-faced kung fu, looking at yourself in the mirror and telling your purple-eyed saggy haggard face that all of this is your own fault and just deal with it.

5 am: wipe up large puddles of various kinds of fluids from floor. Throw cloths in a pile of similar cloths from yesterday that already smell mildewy. Add laundry to your list of things-to-do-ha-ha-yeah-right. Begin to wash accumulated dishes while child whines for attention. Giggle sarcastically to self as you remember what a Waldorfy fairyland mom you thought you were going to be, child playing with little lacquered acorns on a radiant-heated wood floor by the fire while you played lute to welcome the morning. Betcha never thought you'd be pretending not to hear your kid, green stuff running down his face, begging for a cookie at 5 in the morning. Or that you'd growl at him under your breath "you're supposed to be ASLEEP you horrid little beast. I can't believe you think it's okay to ask me for ANYTHING right now."

6 am: Cook egg that child does not eat. Make juice that child will not drink. Run a large bubble bath and plunk disgustingly green child in it. Sit next to tub with head in hands and try not to fall asleep.

6:30 am: ignore large pile of new dishes, large pile of toys, and pile of bedding. This is difficult to do because it is a small house and these piles are very prominent. So it takes a half an hour.

7 am: read story after story to child in hopes that he will take an early nap. No dice.

8 am: Anainn's favorite toy horse breaks a leg. Rummage through bin-o-toys and find dismembered plastic paw from some action hero or other. Hot glue it into place.

8:15 am: get out paints to finish painting holiday cards. child has lots of fun. change child's clothes for 3rd time in 2 hours and add to the accumulating lifeform in the hamper.

8:30 am: plunk child into stroller and walk to Target to buy bike pump to inflate tires so that I can ride bike to pick up Xir later in the day. (Old bike pump did not survive game Xir invented in which it featured as some kind of "bad dinosaur" that eventually gets its comeuppance via decapitation.) Get heebie-jeebies from horrible plastic-scented fluorescent-lit store but nevertheless buy a lot of things. (Warm clothes for the boys, on sale. Little toys and coloring books for a long upcoming plane ride. A garter belt. (it was on clearance!) oh yeah. A bike pump.)

10:00 am. Pump up tires. pack toys, snacks, water, rainclothes, reflective vest for when I bike home at night...have I forgotten anything? Pop baby into bike seat, adjust his harness, put his helmet on, lock gate. Oh no, I forgot my phone. Take off baby's helmet, unstrap his harness, lift him out, unlock gate, get phone. Repeat.

10:30 am. Stop by library to drop off overdue books. Read a few stories to Anainn, remind him for about 20 minutes, fruitlessly, that libraries are quiet places, finally give up and leave.
Bike across town.

12:20 pm. Reach Brentwood and stop to play in a park and have lunch. Exhausted child swings and sobs, slides and sobs, digs in sand and sobs. Staggers facefirst into a bench and I have to make him a plantain poultice. Why do I feel dizzy? Oh yeah, I haven't eaten or drunk anything all day. Shoot. Forgot to pack lunch for self.

1:15 pm. Burst into tears as I pull up at Anainn's father's house to drop him off. All my annoyance with his whininess and refusal to sleep is forgotten. I sit on the wall and hold him in my lap with his warm little cheek pressed up against mine. It is only a day, I tell myself. Only a day, only a day. "Do you want to go in and see your Baba now?" I whisper. "No," he whispers back.

1:30 pm. Pull self together and walk to Xir's school to pick him up. Put on lip balm in hopes that my shiny lips will distract those other, non-divorced mothers from my bloodshot snotty-nosed custody-transfer face.

1:40 pm. Walk to library with happy, chatty Xir. Manage to read him two books in the short time we have together, but on the way home he stops walking and won't budge. "My legs are too tired, Mama." Try not to panic. Have to be at school half-hour away to teach class in 25 minutes. Finally put my backpack on my front, put his backpack on his back, and lift that 80-pound sucker right up into a piggyback. Stagger the final mile back to his father's house under what has to be, total, a 95 lb. load. Xir is so happy. (In his defense, he's been quite sick for a few days.) Why am I so dizzy? Oh yeah, I've been awake since four, have been on the move all day, and STILL haven't eaten or drunk anything. Must remedy this. But first must have second breakdown of day when drop Xir off.

2:55 pm. Sniffle as I bike hell-for-leather into Santa Monica. I'll see him tomorrow, I'll see him tomorrow, I'll see him tomorrow.

3:14 pm. Sweating like a pig, I show up at the gate a whole minute early! My class of eight girls are raring to go. Total chaos ensues. Art is made. Room is trashed. It's by far the easiest part of my day.

5:35 pm. Finish cleanup. pop on reflective vest for ride home (thank goodness I remembered it, lo these many hours ago!) Bike home to culver city.

6:30 pm. Why am I so dizzy? Must be the 6 miles of secondhand marijuana I inhaled biking down Venice boulevard. Oh wait, did I ever eat anything?

7:oo pm. Decide to write down the course of the day in order to understand why it was that I went all day without eating. In writing it down, realize that my older self probably would never have remembered quite how involved life was in these days when the kids were small if I didn't take the time to write down even the insignificant details. In writing it down, realize that I FUCKING ROCK, even though I'm not quite as Waldorfy as I'd once hoped. I need to tell myself that more often. Oh yeah, and did I mention that halfway through the day I got my period unexpectedly? Fortunately we were still on the Ballona Creek bike trail at that point, where there are cattails, the down of which makes a lovely impromptu pad. Whew.

Now I am going to eat dinner.

Friday, December 10, 2010

the collective unconscious

I lost my keys a little while ago. I was on my way out the door to go and soak in wild hot springs with my young stud, so I didn't let it bother me. I knew they would turn up when we got back.

But as we camped and hiked and soaked I turned the problem over in my mind. I'd checked the drawer, all my bags, the table, the counter...I mean, come on, it's a 12-foot house. How hidden could they be? Of course, with Anainn around, 12 feet might as well be a series of echoing caverns. Those keys could very well be wadded up inside my favorite shirt, wrapped in cash nipped from my wallet, and buried under the floorboards with my cell phone on top. Dipped, naturally, in hummus. That's NOTHING to him. Would take him the minute-and-a-half I've pared my bathroom visits down to (any longer, and who knows what could happen! I'm going to break a minute by February, I can feel it...).

Then, one night, under the clear stars of the desert, I had a dream. Carl Jung was crooking his finger at me from a chair near a window.

"Pssst," he said, eyes gleaming with mischief. "I know where your keys are." He pointed to the wardrobe, which flew open, and I saw my grey corduroys there. of course! I had been wearing those cords the day before! The keys must be tucked into the pocket!

I was so excited the next morning. A personal message from Jung himself! I babbled excitedly to Stud about how Jung's theory of the collective unconscious and the mysterious synchrony of dreams was always taking flak from the scientific community for being "unprovable." Well here I had the means to prove it. Should I return home and find the keys in the pocket of my cords, it would PROVE that there is a collective wisdom larger than ourselves that can transmit messages in dreams!

"Or," remarked Stud calmly, "That some part of your brain remembered where you'd put them and, once the constant buzz of your consciousness was out for the count, was finally able to make itself heard." I narrowed my eyes at him. 'Constant buzz'? 'make itself heard'? What, exactly, were we talking about here?

He smiled at me and nudged my arm. "You have to think of all possible ways of interpreting the evidence, or you haven't proved anything at all." He's a rocket scientist. (No, really. He's a rocket scientist.)

Finally our lovely journey to hot springs by way of snowy mountains by way of thin-walled hotel rooms (THAT, dear reader, is story for another time!) came to an end, and I eagerly raced to my wardrobe to feel in the pockets of my cords. I was really rooting for Jung, here.

But--strike one for mysticism. The keys were not there.

I was disconsolate all day. So much for my personal connection with Jung. So much for being able to stick my tongue out at all those ├╝berrational pooh-poohers out there.

Finally I dragged myself to the table to study for my finals. I opened my Theories of Personality text to review the reading.

And there, tucked into the pages of the chapter on Jung and the Collective Unconscious, were my keys.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

the final final.

They are all over. And I'm pretty confident that I aced them all, so it seems my studying style of soaking in a bubble bath eating toast (with flashcards somewhere in the general vicinity) WORKS! Isn't this great news?

I sacrificed a lot these past few weeks, though. My daily meditation. My bouts of kung fu and hill running. Healthy eating. Equanimity with my children. So it seems that perhaps the benefits of taking so many courses at once do not outweigh the costs. I think I'll take on a lighter load next semester.

And by the by, in all of my research I discovered this interesting tidbit: a fully-functioning adult has, in general, only about 50% of her attentional processes free to devote to the needs of another. A young child, however, who is unable to care for himself, is hardwired to demand 100% of his caregiver's attention. Therefore, that niggling feeling that we can never give our kids all that they want---that we are never ENOUGH, somehow---is not a shortcoming in our parenting ability. It's biology. This is where those of you with caring and committed mates cash in---50% of you plus 50% of him/her is a pretty nice equation for your offspring.

There are certainly moments when I am utterly convinced that I am not equal to the task of raising my boys. Now I know why. And it helps, oddly.

This is getting long, but I wanted to relate this story:

This time last year, I had just initiated divorce proceedings from my husband of five years and moved out into a large sublet I could ill-afford. I had a barely-one-year-old and a traumatized, angry five-year-old and a daunting bicycle commute and a lot of emotions. I desperately wanted to create a memorable, warm, loving Christmas for my children. I needed to prove to myself that I could create a joyful family on my own.

So, when my then-5 year old begged for a Christmas tree (my ex had never allowed one) I was determined to make it happen. We walked a few miles to the closest purveyor of trees and I juggled a fussy infant while trying to talk my excited son down from the $80 eight-footer to the only one in my budget, a puny 4-foot fir. I paid for the tree and we started down the sidewalk, my son skipping with glee. That's when I realized there was no way I could carry my baby and that tree at the same time. Oh, I tried! I lashed the thing to my back---boughs scraped the baby's face. I rigged up a little towline---the friction tore off needles and branches. I alternated tucking it under my arms and hugging it with the baby on my back---too dangerous. Couldn't see. Finally I announced that we were going to take the tree on the bus. I got change from a very nice storekeeper and we waited a while at the stop. The first bus was too crowded to even think about shoehorning my suddenly multi-speciate family in there. The next bus didn't come for another half an hour. Baby was shrieking. Boy was restless and whiny. I stepped aboard the bus and put my change in. Then I went back for the tree, and the driver stopped me.

"You can't put that thing in here," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Please," I said, "It's our Christmas tree. I have to get it home. I'll just pop it in the way back and make sure it doesn't hit anybody and we're only a few stops away and it's their first tree..." I must have babbled for a few minutes at least, but the driver was unmoved. He drove away without us.

"Well, the next driver will be nicer," I said to the boys, mustering up some false cheer. In truth, I was near tears. That's when I realized I had put the last of my money in the Meanie's fare box. We couldn't afford another bus.

I don't know what I would have done next. I was at my wit's end.

(If you are wondering why I hadn't simply called a friend from the beginning, I can explain. It hadn't occurred to me. Remember, I wasn't sleeping---baby! new house! divorce!---and also, I was under the severe misapprehension that I had to prove, in these first few months alone, that I was TOTALLY self sufficient and could do EVERYTHING perfectly all by myself, or I would lose my kids.)

That's when the angel showed up.

She drove a blue SUV with a 4-year-old boy in the back. She pulled right up to the curb alongside me and called out "Do you need a lift with that thing?"

She helped me tie the tree to the top of her car. She made room inside for my entire brood and even shifted her son out of his carseat so we could put the baby in it. She told me she had seen me walking out of the tree lot and was shocked when she saw I was going to try to carry the thing home.

"Oh, were you buying a tree too?" I asked.
"No, we're Jewish," she laughed. "This is probably the only chance I'm ever going to get to tie an evergreen onto my car!" My heart spilled over. I felt like Mary being offered the stable. I felt like the beaten Jew who was helped out of the gutter by a despised Samaritan. All those holiday-good-cheer-fellow-man cliches suddenly seemed true and present and real. I did tear up, but she was nice enough to pretend not to notice.

They drove us right to our door, that wonderful family, and we waved goodbye with real warmth. I swept Xir up in a hug and said "Wasn't that AMAZING!"

"What do you mean?" he said. "We needed help and they helped us. That's how you be nice."

Thank you, unknown woman, for the kindness you showed that day. You cannot know how much it meant. May everyone "be nice" to you forever and ever, and happy Hannukah.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

empty love.

I have finals next week. Hence the dearth of posts of late.

My professor went on at some length last week about the importance of finding one's particular "studying style" (quotation marks his) and then sticking to it.

I am proud to announce that, as of this evening, I have discovered my "studying style". Here it is:

1) turn on the toaster oven (it's cold in my house and this is my main source of heat).

2) make and eat sequential toast (so as not to feel wasteful for running the toaster oven).

3) lounge in a hot, glittery bath with a wineglass of red cranberry juice (it looks like wine so I feel decadent, but does not make me drowsy or intoxicated, neither of which work for my particular "studying style").

4) have a box of flashcards in the general proximity of the bath.

5) from the bath, between sips of cranberry juice, organize a party for the post-bath evening.

I really like my "studying style". I'll let you know how I do on my finals.

That said, I wanted to share with you this rather interesting chart of Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love. This is based on longterm studies of healthy relationships (according to whom? why, white western men with psychology degrees of course, so naturally it's universal). The basic theory is that there are only three essential components to a healthy love relationship. And here they are:

Having lived most of my twenties in the "Empty Love" scenario---commitment for commitment's sake--I suppose it is not surprising that I now find myself in a "Romantic Love" scenario: physical and emotional attraction sans commitment, ot the other two points of the triangle. Prior to my marriage I was involved in a "Fatuous Love" scenario, in which the object of my affection and I had committed blindly to each other without giving ourselves the time to form any true intimacy. My marriage was, essentially, a rebound from that one. Fatuous love: I don't recommend it.

Of course, none of these three situations is ideal. Studies show that companionate love (a long term relationship based on friendship and commitment, and the model followed by countries in which marriage is arranged) and the infrequently attained ultimate (consummate love, in which passion, intimacy, and commitment unite) are the only two models that predict long term health and happiness.

What do you think? Does this fit your understanding of love?

As for me---- I'm just memorizing the stuff. I'll form opinions after the final!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

thanksgiving in the 12x12

For those of you who were wondering how one cooks a twelve-course meal, including a 12lb. bird, in a kitchen that looks like this:
Fear not. I'm about to enlighten you. As this was my first attempt at cooking for more than 4 people, I proceeded by trial-and-error. Error: blowing a fuse by baking a turkey, sauteeing onions, and boiling water all at once. Error: blowing a fuse yet again by baking a turkey, boiling potatoes, and listening to the radio all at once. Error: blowing the fuse once more by baking sweet potatoes, reducing gravy, and checking email all at once. Gak. Having, FINALLY, learned from my mistakes, I pushed the estimated serve time back about five hours and cooked one. thing. at. a. time. The boys were occupied by creating a paper tablecloth for the outside table (the only one that could hold us all!)
I put the dishes that were finished on top of the toaster oven to stay warm while other things cooked. I let go of my need to make everything from scratch and allowed my friends to bring rolls and pie. I listened to the Nat King Cole station on Pandora for 12 hours straight, long enough for 13 versions of "Baby, it's Cold Outside" to cycle through.

We had a wonderful time. The table the boys decorated turned out beautifully,

everyone had plenty to eat, and the storebought rolls were, predictably, the biggest hit. After twelve hours of prep, the meal was over in about 15 minutes. Then came cleanup. In a sink the size of a thimble.

And, just for the sake of science, here is what the dish drainer looks like after the detritus of a wonderful, joyous meal has been run through a thimble-sized sink. My cup--and my counter---runneth over.

I learn so much about the true nature of ritual and celebration every time I try to create one in limiting circumstances. I learn that joy has little to do with the setting and everything to do with the participants. I learn that little boys can make a celebration out of ANYTHING (including an old washcloth, a handful of chicken feathers, and some lego pieces). I learn that the less I worry about getting everything right, the more fun everybody has.

This year, I also learned that escaping right away to play in the snowy mountains with one's boyfriend is a great way to dissipate any accumulated stress.
I have so much to be grateful for.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

when anainn came into the world

up from the ocean the mist finds its way
it blankets the earth at the dawn of the day
over the east, the sun burns through
a band of gold in a bed of blue

down by the shoreline the pelicans sweep
plunge through the heights and down to the deep
all i know is when the birds fly free
my heart sings along like a wild gypsy

now that you're here i'll take your hands
and lead you through this wondrous land
every moment is shining and new
and you're in the power, and the power's in you

up from the ocean and down from the hills
throughout all creation the power spills
all i know is when the power's in me
i fly like a bird through the high country


Happy second birthday, Anainn. You've changed everything in my life for the better, simply by existing.

Here is what I wrote hours before you came into the world:

...The changes are coming, I feel them without fear or anticipation, just a steady knowledge of the shift to come. Perhaps Anainn chose me, now, to help usher me out of this place I have been stuck, to spur me for love of him to to make the changes and impossible choices I haven't made for love of myself.

Xir rustles and wakes. All the questions--his strength astounds me. Always ready to love, to readjust, to understand. I hate for him to see my mistakes, to suffer the effects of my bad choices. I wanted to spare him that. We all must, we mothers. How do we bear it, generation after generation, this terrible, painful love? What I have done to my mother. What we all do to our mothers. And what is done to us in turn. Yet the love, that wonderful love and those tiny hugs and kisses! Perpetuation of life, drudgery, all of the pitfalls and immensities of existence for the sake of that love.

It's all worth it. I love you, Anainn.

xir's world

Xir fished around under the refrigerator with the broom this morning to retrieve a car that had rolled underneath. What he came up with was:

-two toy mice
-a marble
-a Sacagewea dollar
-a koosh ball (has it been under there since the '80s, I wonder?)
-myriad hair bands
-several magnets
-dustballs enough to insulate a smallish shed
-a lost bakugan ball.

The way he greeted this bakugan ball was downright lyrical. He sang to it. He carried it around murmuring to it that this was the happiest day of his life. He carried out a little ceremony honoring the car that had rolled under the fridge in the first place, for 'rescuing' the bakugan. He took it into the bath with him. He tucked it into bed beside him.

However, this was the first I'd heard of it. I had no idea that a) the bakugan was his favorite toy or b) that it had been lost. Lately I've come to understand just how circumspect this extraordinarily special and exasperating six-year-old is.

"If Baba gets remarried I'll have a step-sister," he mentioned as we walked to the store today. (How long has THAT been percolating?)

"ladies and gentlemen", he announced into his sing-along-cassette-player mic, "the world will now be ending because of meteors and climate change. But the Andromeda galaxy will be all right."

"Do you know what Juan Pablo did one time? He held my arms down so I couldn't block Kenny Rey when he punched me. He was making me the victim. But that was a long long time ago when Kenny Rey was my enemy." Whoa, whoa, you had an ENEMY? Someone PUNCHED you? "It was a long time ago mom. When we still had drama class." You had drama class?

This child growls along behind me on hands and knees, biting the clothes that hang from the racks, as I try to buy him shoes. When I hiss under my breath that he should stand up because he is embarrassing me, he responds "I am a saber-tooth cat and they do not care about embarrassment." When I use my banshee voice to tell him that saber-tooth tiger or no, he is not getting any shoes until he gets up out of the middle of the aisle and removes his teeth from the merchandise, he doesn't bat an eyelash as he responds "you mean saber-tooth CAT. You always get that wrong. There was never any such thing as a saber-tooth tiger."

He happily wears the waldorfy linen tops and chunky knit scarves I make for him, though I don't know how much longer that will last. He believes in the Tao but not the tooth fairy. He hums his own theme music as we walk along, pretending his hands are men, engaged in an eternal fight against one another using anything we pass as weapons: sticks, acorns, blades of grass, bougainvillea flowers. He has firm plans to save the world by a) gathering up all of the garbage humans have piled into landfills and loading it into a spaceship bound for incineration by the sun and b) sailing a ship equipped with two extremely large cups, which he will fill repeatedly with water from the sea and deliver to villages around the world that do not have enough drinking water.

I will discuss the difficulties of desalinization with him at some future time. Though, for all I know, he's already got that angle figured, and is just playing his cards close to his chest. I wouldn't be surprised.

Friday, November 19, 2010

a night at the museum

It is amazing to me how quickly one can go from scrubbing a kid's vomit from the floor to having giddily insightful conversations in a secret restaurant with world-class artists, conductors, and editors.

There seem to be moments in my life when charm flows through me like a river and I can keep company with anyone. I can't control when they come and don't ever anticipate them, but when they occur I am so grateful, and overcome with the remembrance that life is like this: flooring us with sudden shifts and new directions. It is so easy to think that the breadth of one's experience is always only going to be just what is happening now. But it has always been so much more than that; and the changes can take your breath away.

I have been extraordinarily lucky in the people whose lives have crossed mine. They remind me every day what is possible, how very much we can make of our lives. If not us, then who?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

a portrait of health

According to Abraham Maslow, the psychologist whose humanistic ideas spurred Esalen into being, there are only a handful of fully-functioning people out there. How do you find them? Here are the signs:

1) openness to experience. (such a person sees the world for what it is, sees herself for what she is, without having to disguise or defend against unpleasant truths.)

2) living fully in each moment. (this person is not stuck in behaviors that no longer work simply because "that's how she is" or obsessively planning for the future.)

3) inner trust. (this person listens to her emotions and intuitions and does not question her own judgement, values, or ideas.)

4) experiential freedom. (although this person is aware that her environment can limit her choices to some degree, she also knows that she has a choice in every moment of how to respond to and think about her circumstances.)

5) creativity. (this person can play around with her own concepts, her own reactions, her own emotions to come up with new ways of being every day.)

I couldn't tell you exactly why Maslow's theory resonates with me more strongly than some of the others I've learned, but I can always tell the good ones because the day after I've studied them I behave in happier and healthier ways. Thinking about self-actualization and human potential made me drink enough water today; it helped me make long-term decisions that were right for me even if they were contrary to prevailing opinion; it helped me stop and do some kung fu and tai chi instead of pushing obsessively onward with the mountain of work that seems always to loom.

I like to think about all the people I know that fulfill these criteria, and how lucky I am to know them. I like to consider those I don't know so well, figures from history and of present-day importance, and wonder which among them would qualify as self-actualized. I like to look at the long stretch of my life still ahead and see how openness, living in the moment, trusting myself, sensing my freedom, and acting creatively will open it into something truly lovely to experience.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

a spell for chameleon

One of the most influential authors in my development was Piers Anthony, who managed to unite both incessant punning and richly imaginative fantasy into a stay-up-all-hours have-no-social-life spend-all-one's-pocket-money-on-paperbacks cocktail. A Spell for Chameleon featured a female character that changed with the moon, so that at one point she was incisively intelligent and painfully ugly, at another spellbindingly beautiful and dull beyond belief, and all the stages in between. It is perhaps unfortunately portentous that this was my favorite book as I navigated adolescence; these constant and severe changes still characterize my adult life.

I was thinking about this as I reread my journal of the past week. I could so easily see holes in my logic; an overruling pessimism blinding me to other interpretations. Yet when I wrote it, my feelings seemed to be the whole truth. Allow me to elaborate...

I made a fatal error this morning: I looked at the SouleMama blog. Now, although I possess the secret of the hyperlink, I am not going to utilize it here for fear of doing to you what I did to myself. This SouleMama, she is a mother of the highest order. She knits incredible sweaters of hand-spun wool for each of her FOUR children. She writes bestselling books. She makes violet jam and takes exploratory art walks with her offspring and they do morning chores together that include gathering eggs from their chickens and feeding the pigs. She is young and beautiful. She has a house filled with color, ritual, music, and handmade beauty. She is like a refreshing dip in lemon juice to my whip-slashed self-esteem.

Why do I do this to myself? I sat there counting off all the things she was doing that I had failed to do: 1) obtain a successful, loving, sane, and productive mate
2) live in new england, in a farm house no less
3) keep a beautiful, welcoming, and cozy home (of more than one room, even!)
4) channel her creativity into moneymaking and socially productive endeavors
5) prioritize the happy childhoods of her children over all else.
I admit it, I kinda wallowed. It was her brand new beautiful wood-fired stove that did it, see.

But then. After an incredible day with my vivacious, intelligent, adorable, funny, insightful offspring (Anainn can now say "Buddha" and "otter" and "more bubble water, mama"; Xir befriended both a duck and a human being at the park and had one of them eating out of his hand and the other teaching him chess by the end of the day. I'll let you sort out which was which), I raised my hand in psych class to answer a question about adult development and floored the professor when I mentioned my...uh...lack of car ownership. He drew me out over the break (not hard to do, I'm a Leo) and then made this announcement to the entire class:

"Folks, some of you have been complaining about the difficulty of the exam and all the reading you have to do. I want you to know that one of your fellow students is a single mom of two, does not own a car, works, lives far below poverty level and still managed to get an 'A'."

This was all it took to get me chatting up my fellow bus-riders, writing poetry, and irish-dancing in the streets all the way home.

I'm not repeating this to toot my own horn---well, okay, maybe a little--but to point out how quickly what seemed to be failures were turned into matter-of-fact circumstances that could be overcome. I was not a single poverty-stricken irresponsible mother of two--I was a SUCCESS who had OVERCOME those setbacks. Wow! What a difference! All in the emphasis!

So this is what I need to remember when I'm taking a swim on the dark side of the sea. It's all a matter of perspective. The moon will wax again and I will regain whatever intelligence or inner beauty or insight I thought, in the darkness, had gone forever. Nothing is ever just as we see it; there are all the other interpretations and ramifications that we can't see because of the limitations our present chameleon phase puts on our vision. And this, too: there are things we think we can control that we can't. Our self-esteem, other people's behavior, our children. But there are things we think we can't control that we can: our happiness, our optimism, our willingness to accept change.

New task: find the stressors in my life that I can control. Figure out how best to do that, and then follow the plan. Let the things I can't control be.

And call the plumber.

Friday, November 12, 2010

parallel lives

This morning, as I was wondering how I will ever manage to pull off a graduate thesis when I've lost both my credit card and my thumb drive in the space of a few hours, I got a wonderfully newsy email from my father.

(My father, for those of you who don't know, is a farmer's boy from Indiana, raised by a widowed mother, who went on to get a doctorate in religious history and is now one of the most respected authorities on Quakerism in the country. Preen, preen.)

Part of his work directing Friends' Center is to bring in various speakers, and in his email he is describing the visit of a bestselling Quaker author:

"...After that, I took her to lunch...that went 2 1/2 hours, as somehow it came out in an off-hand comment that one of our daughters had married a Taoist - and this expression came over her face! Turns out that her first marriage was to an American who had embraced a cultic form of Taoism, was her teacher, was 26 years older, made up the rules as he went along, was overweeningly controlling, and whom she finally had the good sense to leave with her children after about 6 - 8 years! As we shared stories and vignettes, it was just too bizarre for words how totally similar everything was!
She is writing a chapter in her book about it... she lives in N.C. now over near Chapel Hill, with her new husband & two children; they have a small farm, cabin with guest house, and animals."

What I fervently hope is that the odd synchrony in our lives continues long enough for me to get to the farm part.

Also: I have a new bike! This is my equivalent of a sporty convertible. I've been biking around all morning in leather gloves and a head scarf, a la Grace Kelly. Betcha Grace Kelly never got her skirt caught in the gears, though.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

the center cannot hold

Things are falling apart. Actual things: my wardrobe, my bicycle, my immune system, the plumbing. I know that entropy is inevitable, but when it occurs at this rate even I can see that something in my life is off-kilter.

It would be interesting if I could set up a poll here, Shelayna-style, to gather advice and commentary. I could ask questions like:

1) Is it too much to ask of one's bike (and oneself) to commute from Culver City to Brentwood to Santa Monica to Brentwood to Westwood to Culver City again in a day? With some running around after children in a park too? Don't farmers and hunters in many cultures demand far more of their bodies than this daily?

2) Is it more responsible, as a divorced mother, to try and maintain two separate lives (dating and children) or to try and integrate one's family into all that one does?

3) How many of you actually sit down and eat three meals a day?

4) At what temperature does it become necessary to have indoor heating?

5) Is a bathroom sink really necessary? I mean, can't you just use the bathtub faucet that's right there?

and so on. When I am exhausted---physically, mentally, and immunologically---I tend to lose my sense of perspective and cannot tell if the behaviors I am engaging in are whacko or not.

And when things fall apart, I tend to get wistful for Lives Not Lived. You know---what would have happened if I had married X and become a midwife? kinds of things. NOOOOOOOOT good. Or to get really maudlin about the kind of childhood I provide for my kids and start thinking of all the ways it could be better. Unattainable ways. Like, for instance, if I had married X and become a midwife and we lived in a cabin in the mountains and my children wore beautiful handmade linen clothes and milked goats when they were thirsty and scrambled up butternut trees to gather nuts when they were hungry. Like that.

But I know better. I know that all of this surface stuff is as changeable as the temperature. I know what needs to happen: sleeping enough. Eating well. Meditating and being grateful, mindful, and calm. When the center is taken care of, everything else falls into place.

Everything I have learned, through the years of self-cultivation and meditation and talking to smart people and reading up on psychology, tells me that energy spent wishing and worrying is not just wasted, it's actually harmful. That it drains us of our joy, our energy, and our health.

So, onward. I'll do the foolproof fix-it tonight: a milk-and-honey facial (2 Tbsp. honey, 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour, 2 Tbsp. milk mixed together and smoothed on the face for 10 minutes, then rinsed off with lukewarm water and followed by a splash of rosemary tea) followed by a candlelit yoga session and a half-hour of writing. Before I sleep I will consider my extraordinary luck in knowing the people I know, having the children I have, living in this incredible place I live. And tomorrow I'll call the plumber.

Monday, November 8, 2010


"It's my destiny to heal people", remarked Xir as we walked along. We were on our way home from Trader Joe's, whence we'd sallied forth for milk and sunset-viewing. "But I have several destinies."
"Are these things you feel in your heart, or you just know, or someone told you?" I asked.
"I just know in my brain. It's my destiny to be a really, really good kung fu man. And it's my destiny to make art."
"Really? Wow, what kind?"
"All kinds of art are my destiny. And it's my destiny to love people. And I have one more destiny. Can you guess?"
"Nope. It's my destiny to like dinosaurs and prehistoric beasts. But I've already done that one."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

possibilities and questions.

This Thursday I took a bus to the Union Station, took a train to Santa Barbara, took a shuttle to downtown, took a bus to Goleta, and walked half a mile, all to attend a brief presentation and Q&A session for applicants to the psych program I'm looking at in Colorado. I turned out to be the only attendee, but the 5 1/2 hour travel time was worth it, because being able to speak one-on-one with a graduate of the program I'm looking at was extremely rewarding.

The program is a synthesis between wilderness educator training and counseling psychology. You graduate ready to sit for licensure as a counselor, but also prepared with kayak, rope climbing, horseback, wilderness first aid, and orienteering skills for getting folks out into the wilderness where nature can do its healing magic. In addition, (as if this weren't enough!) the program is run through a Buddhist university, so there is emphasis on self-reflection, self-cultivation, and meditation in order to keep oneself centered as one goes about trying to help others. Right? This is my PLACE!!

However. As I have tried to justify my application to this 3-year masters degree program, I have run into a few seemingly insurmountable roadblocks.

1) Finances. Oh, it is expensive. And oh, I am under no illusions that I am going to easily find well-paid work in this extremely narrow and obscure field.

2) Children. How exactly am I going to haul them off to Colorado without a lengthy and world-rending custody battle? And what are they going to be doing when I am on my long solo expeditions in the second year of the program?

3) Self-doubt. Can I be a single mom and a graduate student simultaneously? Will I be able to pass the licensure exam? Will I be able to negotiate promoting myself and pulling a business together on my own?

But the conversation with this woman--Krista---allayed many of these fears. Now I know that she is an admissions representative, so there's that whole I'll-say-whatever-it-takes-to-get-you-in-our-clutches dynamic, but what was interesting about this particular encounter is that she also, as a graduate of a Buddhist program, meditates. And reflects before speaking. And is careful to find the most compassionate response. Her good intentions were palpable. And here is what she told me:

1) there is a reliable and frequent bus system to campus from just about anywhere. Very few students own a car.

2) students often rent houses together. She has known of several occasions where students of the wilderness program trade off a year of childcare: for instance, in my first year I could watch someone's children while she does the intensive trips on the second year, and she would watch mine in return the following year.

3) there is a new program by which payback of student loans is prorated by income. So I would only have to pay back what I can legitimately afford until I get my feet on the ground.

4) about 50% of graduate students at this particular university are parents.

That leaves custody...a topic for another time. Altogether I left the session with a buoyant, almost giddy sense of this could happen. This really could happen.

And then my sort-of boyfriend picked me up and we wandered the streets of Santa Barbara together, giggling and eating and listening to mandolin music played by a dreadlocked individual on a skateboard. We watched scores of bike riders, all wearing false mustaches, throng the streets. We drove up the winding mountain roads to his home, where I proceeded to--HALLELUJAH!!!--sleep for TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT.

For the duration of a full day I felt cared for. Someone was trying to help me resolve my difficulties, someone was holding me, someone was driving me home while I slept. How wonderful. I cannot adequately express what an overwhelming relief it is to let go and be cared for. It brings tears to my eyes even now. You forget what it's like.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

intelligence test

This weekend brought an unanticipated (and desperately needed) visit from my friend Sarah--everyone should have a friend as devoted, intelligent, and generous as she. (Though if you take a walk with her you do need to bring a broom along to sweep up the bodies of prone men--it's worth it.)

Sarah caught me at a very very low point. I am a tough little animal, it's true, and can handle nearly anything, but lack of sleep is my Achilles' heel. Lately---what with cranky toddlers and maladapted kindergarteners and teeny spaces and midterms---I'm lucky if I get 5 hours. I'm a ten-hours-a-night kind of girl---wish I were kidding---and the upshot of this sleep starvation diet has been a general slow-motion implosion of my entire life. I become the mother who shrieks in the scary voice at 8 am "LEAVE ME ALONE! MAKE YOUR OWN @#$@ BREAKFAST! IF I DON'T GET BACK TO SLEEP WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE." Again--wish I were kidding. I look like a poochy eighty-year-old. I drop/forget/lose things. I get myself into situations where my toddler is standing on the kitchen table peeing on my laptop. True story.

Enter Sarah, haloed by SoCal sunshine on her trusty bike steed. While Anainn (belatedly swaddled in a diaper) threw things around and shrieked in striking imitation of his mother, Sarah sat crosslegged on my red futon and earnestly took in everything I said, asked questions, gave thoughtful responses, and worked out solutions. We wandered over for tea at my new favorite place and she handled Anainn's dish-breaking food-throwing propensities with grace, somehow making me feel throughout that not only was she having fun anyway, but that I was a great mother despite obvious physical evidence to the contrary. All while maintaining that stimulating let's-solve-your-life-problems conversation. Have I mentioned I adore her?

And, here, thanks to Sarah, is my newfound understanding of my life:

I am due for a change. When I am sure of what I want---not what others might want for me--- it behooves me to examine EVERY POSSIBLE METHOD of achieving it. The solution is there somewhere, and it is not necessary for me to compromise myself morally to get what I want (assassination was bandied about for a bit, but ultimately discarded, as a possible tactic).

In a wonderful example of synchronicity, this evening's psych class centered on problem solving methods. I'm going to do a work-up of the particularly intransigent problem I face---the custody thing---using every blessed technique in the textbook.

We also got our midterms back. Before handing them out, the professor asked us what professions we might associate with intelligence; how an archetypal "intelligent" person would look. We generated a picture of a 40-something male Asian astrophysicist in eyeglasses.

Then he wrote the current definition of intelligence on the board. This is amazing. Intelligence, according to the experts in the field, is:
1) skill at absorbing/processing information
2) strong and rapid problem-solving
3) ability to adapt to new or changing environments

Now this looks an awful lot like a skills list for motherhood, by my lights.

And it must be, because his next announcement was that the highest score on the midterm had not been earned by an astrophysicist or even an Asian. It had been earned by a part-time art teacher with two kids.


(p.s. I'm awfully low on practical intelligence though. As evidenced by the fact that I drank a huge cup of coffee just before class and now, when I could be SLEEPING or studying for the midterm I have tomorrow, I am busily crowing here.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

critical thinking

I have begun a little ritual: every Friday morning, after I wake and run up the mountain and clean the house and water the garden and generally pull myself together, I hie myself off to the little tea shop a few blocks away and order a pot of their incredible rose-petal tea. Then I SIT STILL for as many hours as I can milk out of that teapot. My personal best is 2 1/2, so far. I bring my psych texts and read; I make flash cards; I watch the movie biz people lunching biz-ily.
That's really it, for me. The rest of the week is spent in a frantic whirlwind: home from class at 11 pm, off to work at 6:30 am, homework and children and cleaning and studying and boiling spaghetti and picking plastic dinosaurs out of tubs of hummus and shards of glass out of the bathwater (don't ask). So those few hours in the tea shop are more than a rest. They are an eddy in the ceaseless flow of the week, the moments when I remember who I am. That sounds pretentious, but I mean it. I am so busy doing things lately, things that must be done again almost immediately---sweeping the floor, washing the dishes, socializing the offspring, that sort of thing---that I entirely forget, for hours at a time, that I even exist.

It's funny what happens when I sit still. I remember that I do exist, and all of a sudden my brain does this funny spastic thing where it tries to remind me of all the things I am, all at once: you love the mountains you speak german you want to live in a cabin by the river and make your own snowshoes out of willow branches you understand soil salinization you write songs you have friends in the Pyrenees you believe in community and permaculture and biking you like tea you gather nettles in the springtime on and on and on until it runs out of breath. Or whatever brains do. I like it, actually. My brain emphasizes the positive, for the most part, and it's nice to have something going on in there besides AAAAAAAAGGGHHHH I'm late! or Ohhhh NO he just threw that thing in that thing after stepping in that thing!! which are, these days, pretty much the default settings.

But sometimes it makes me sad too. Wistful. For most of a half an hour I sat over my teacup this morning contemplating how very much I would love to live in a cabin somewhere. Just that. To have a kitchen looking out at trees. A wilderness to wander in. A woodstove to cook over, pheasants to track, neighbors few and far between but all with that wild look in their eyes, people who know how to skin a deer and rig up a water pump and sew together a wound if they have to.

All this studying of psychology has taught me to examine my thoughts, and that's what I did this morning, following the 5 steps of critical thinking:

1) what am I being asked to believe? That living in a cabin in the wilderness is the only thing that would make me happy.
2) what evidence is there to support this claim? I've lived in cabins before and I've lived in the wilderness before and it makes me feel roaringly alive.
3) are there alternative ways to interpret this evidence? Ummm, yeah.
4) what additional evidence would you need to rule out these alternative explanations? I would need to prove that I'm not happy anywhere else. I would need to prove that living in a cabin would make me roaringly happy NOW, with children, as the person I am now. A person who owns boots of the non-hiking variety.
5) what's the most reasonable conclusion to draw with the evidence you have?

I looked around the tea shop, and at the sunny autumn day outside. I looked down at my boot-clad feet and felt the warmth of the teacup my hands were wrapped around. I thought about how in a few minutes I'd be running to catch the bus to Xir's school to watch his Halloween Parade. I thought about how, before too long, Anainn would be wrapped around me like a little monkey, nestling his fuzzy head on my shoulder.

The most reasonable conclusion: I'm already happy.

And then: AAAAAAGGGHHHH I'm late!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

a query...

So let's say, hypothetically, that I am standing in front of the vending machines at UCLA and one of my classmates approaches me to talk about the quality of vending machine coffee. If he, hypothetically, goes on to say that he's been craving Starbucks and is thinking of going after class if I want to wait,

is he asking me out?

If so, I blew it. Hypothetically.

Monday, October 25, 2010

self-image, post-midterm.

Disclaimer: this might be interesting only to me.

I started out this semester (studying psychology at UCLA to get prerequisites for a master's degree) feeling like the elderly, out of it, unintelligent mom in a sea of bright young things who wouldn't dream of procreating a day before their thirty-fifth birthday or conclusion of their post-graduate research fellowship, one. I have never felt so conspicuous--or aware of my age-- in my life.

But this evening, upon conclusion of my first midterm, I noticed that I was the second person to finish--and the first woman. I'm pretty sure I aced the thing and didn't find it all that complicated. I sprang out of there like a spring chicken.

This tells me two things:
1) My self-image is strongly correlated to my perception of my intelligence. More so than to my prosperity, physical appearance, or age. And this is wonderful news, because although there is very little I can do to change my looks or the years I've logged, intelligence is something I can always build. (Apparently one can build one's finances too. But I remain skeptical. ) (We budding psychologists call that "repression"...)
2) Psychology comes easily to me and I adore the reading, soak up the theories, and feel high after class. Could it be that I'm on the right track?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

a weekend of good childhood.

Rain. The scent of woodsmoke; a fire-blackened twig scratching patterns on the ground. Climbing up to the moon, high on the rain-greened hill, and looking down upon a city suddenly beautiful. Round moon, brave boys, laughter. A pitcher of garden zinnias. New-planted peas. Singed pumpkin, candle shadows, pancakes for dinner. Pippi before bed. Pumpkin bread. Long stories, and slippers by the door.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"female trouble"

Hmmm. So I've been up most of the night studying for my midterms in Abnormal Psychology, Psychology 10, and Theories of Personality. By "studying" I mean eating garlic bread, chocolate, and popcorn; making several pots of tea; cleaning the floor on my hands and knees with baby wipes; doing the laundry; signing my son up for violin lessons; ordering art supplies over the internet; planting fall peas in the garden; and washing dishes. So, as you can see, studying is extremely productive for me.

The recent incessant rains have had some interesting consequences. The damp seems to have weakened the plaster of the walls of the 12x12 such that all the screws in the wall are falling out. This led to my bookshelf falling over and spewing its contents all over the floor, bedding, kitchen, you name it. I have not had a free 30 seconds to clear a trail through the carnage since it happened 3 nights ago. My house looks like a bomb hit it. (I mean, more so than usual, and I can't blame it on the kids.) So I've been sleeping in a little ball surrounded by books, pens, rocks, and little bits of houseplant. According to my textbook, this behavior might qualify as "abnormal".

But, according to my textbook, that's to be expected, since I am a "woman", and "women", again according to my textbook, are disproportionately likely to be "abnormal". Yes, we are TWO TIMES MORE LIKELY to experience depression than men and THREE TIMES MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide. Cross-culturally. Also, we have special little syndromes that are ours alone, like PMS, postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis...

Several theories are proposed for why this might be. I find them fascinating. Here goes:
1) Men are not diagnosed with depression as often because they hide it behind aggression, which is more socially acceptable.
2) Frequent changes in hormones might predispose women to maladaptive behavior.
3) women experience more stress than men: we are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to do menial work, likely to face more discrimination, and also there's that whole childbearing and childrearing thing, though they DON'T MENTION THIS.
4) body dissatisfaction, or the constant rumination over appearance, is a stressor that affects women disproportionately; this is a habit that is encouraged rather than dissuaded by societal norms.
5) women are statistically more likely to blame themselves for difficulties and attribute successes to others, whereas men tend to the reverse. Thus women tend to direct their stress responses inward whereas men direct them outward, in aggression.

These are all theories, so of course there are lots of problems and over-generalizations, but the thing that struck me the most was how extraordinarily little control any of them give a woman to change things. Let's see, we can't stop having hormones. We can't stop being the ones that have children and only make 76 cents to the dollar. There's not much we can do about societal expectations and judgments based on appearance. What we CAN do, according to these geniuses, is a) try to be less sad for goodness' sake and b) start blaming others for our problems.

Or we can curl into a ball amongst the books and pottery with our middle fingers firmly in the air and get some sleep. We're going to need it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a nice bit o' navel gazing never hurt anyone...right?

watch out, folks. this space is rapidly becoming a forum for all things psychological---an outlet for the myriad new thoughts my psych coursework is engendering, and a place for some self-indulgent self-analysis.

what fascinates me most about psychology is the uniqueness of each individual: the ways in which we are consistent, and the ways in which we alter over time. the ways we adjust to life's demands and the ways we fail to adjust. the place that I, and many of those I am close to, suspect that I am stuck is in the developmental phase of generativity. productiveness. procreation. this is the time of my life when i vacillate most strongly between poles of self-absorption/stagnation and creativity/citizenship. those of you who visit here frequently are probably already aware of my somewhat conflicted attitude towards motherhood; this conflict extends throughout all productivity-related aspects of my life. career, writing output, all those outward forms of investing one's life energy in lasting ways--they are the most likely to suffer from self-sabotage.

isn't it interesting that i can know this and yet still persist in self-defeating behavior? i wonder frequently where i learned this behavior; somewhere along the line i must have experienced positive reinforcement for holding myself back. i wonder if i can un-condition it. it would be an interesting experiment: to reward myself for every act of creation, every focused step toward productivity, every act of nurture...rewards that would compensate for the loss of immediate gratifications such as sleep, indolence, and even the subconscious fears of what success would mean.

it interests me, too, that so many of my female friends are stuck in the same place. we are child-women, unwilling to commit to one form of life for fear of selling ourselves short; unwilling to mature fully for fear of becoming stodgy or dated. we struggle with the selflessness that raising children demands of us and the lack of support for the selfish behaviors that used to characterize our lives. the role of a woman these days is awfully ambiguous: everything is possible, or so we are told, but the support systems are not in place for the realistic achievement of these possibilities. and so, we are always falling short. i can see how this might lead to an unwillingness to "grow up" and face the impossible expectations; better to develop a self-identity of vacillation than to solidly fail at the goals one has set for oneself.

And yet elusiveness---the quality of remaining noncommittal; the quality of refusing to be pinned down---is a defense mechanism. It can't ever take us anywhere; it masks the central conflict here, the conflict between human capability and societal expectation. I know exactly where I learned my elusiveness---it was adult-onset, and the very clear product of marriage to an incredibly opinionated and judgemental spouse. Now i am slowly, carefully, unlearning it, allowing myself to both have and express opinions. even when they are, sometimes, wrong. even when they alienate others. even then.

and i find myself almost giddy with it....skipping through the leaves, sketching the sky, carrying on animated conversations with strangers. it is amazing how energizing the simple act of holding an opinion can be. the energy it frees is tremendous.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

just bizarre...

I thought this morning "what I am is a creative generalist. I ought to start a website for people like me and see if generalism in general can be brought back around." so I typed in "creative generalist" and discovered, naturally, that it has already been done (and rather well!) by this guy.

And then not five minutes ago, whilst uploading adorable pictures of my children on facebook so as to counteract the smear job I've done on them here, this ad pops up.

I kid you not. I think I have a little crush on the man.