Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Morning

It is 63 degrees in my house (I just turned the heat on), and I am in bed bundled in a sweater and under as many blankets as I could reach without getting up.  Silas -- bless him -- just delivered a cup of tea.

Out the window, the sky is brightening to cottony white, and on the tree that fills half the window, the lemons are finally yellowing.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Naturally, I am thinking about being thankful.  Study after study have shown gratitude is healthful and transformative (Forbes article,    Huffington Post , NPR, Ann Voskamp) -- and I've wondered about this.

It's easy for me to crank out a list:
clean running water
a house with thick walls
clean air
clothes that are warm and I get to choose
a marriage
healthy husband
healthy kids
siblings and parents I'd choose
safe school
safe streets
a car to drive
grocery stores
sunsets, how much the sky speaks
stunning physical beauty
road trips
teachers of all sorts
hearing my kids laugh
scent of brininess in the air

...I can keep this going for a long time.  I like brainstorming thankful lists.  When I can't sleep at night, I go through the alphabet and list as many things as I can for each letter that I'm thankful for:

and almost always fall asleep before F.

List as I may, though, I rarely feel impacted by the exercise, even when I try to deliberately be thankful in the midst of a funk, even after embracing Ann Voskamp's 1,000 gifts challenge (keep a running list of what you're thankful for all the way to 1,000 things; it transformed her) --  nothing's "happened."

I remember my mom telling me a story about walking down the bike path one day and being grateful for her feet.  As she walked she kept thinking about her feet -- the wonder of how they held her body, their lack of pain, the distance she could journey on them, what it would be like *not* to have feet or healthy feet, and she finally was in tears, grateful for her feet.

I think she was on to something.

Listing the things I'm thankful for verses steeping in thankfulness and *experiencing* it is different.  Every morning I have to wait for my tea bag to steep and turn my water into tea.  This takes time, which I'm realizing I seldom bring time to my thanks.

I'm also thinking about how the power of an address  -- eye contact, in undivided attention, speaking to someone personally.  It feel different when I'm thankful for my kids and when I take Eden's face in my hands and tell her how I'm thankful for her.  It's different to vaguely be thankful for the streaks of color across the sky and to thank the Creator for it, and stop there for a minute.

Today I probably won't pause much; I have a turkey trot to walk, coffee to drink with friends, fruits and vegetables to spray paint for the center pieces, parades and football to watch, and of course much to eat with people we love.  But, as I move from here to Christmas -- the wildly paced season of want and do and shop and give and make and -- and then into a new year, I'd like to steep more, turn to tea.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Morning After: the Election

Dear Nation,

You have chosen this.  As the map bled in solid swaths of red last night, you were speaking.  

It's hard to make my mouth say "we" -- "we the people," "we, Americans" -- this is the voice of "we"?

We have spoken.

Waking this morning in the dark, the echo across this vast country was almost audible: what now?

The United States just got out of the shower and is standing naked before the world.  We've been exposed: our (putting on my big girl pants to speak in "we") driving fear about people who are not white, our resistance to a salty strong woman, our willingness to usher Jr high crudeness into the While House, into the history books, to make a man who mocks and gropes and boasts President in front of our children.  We've chosen to disregard assault.  To disregard racism.  To toss international relations to the wind. 

What now?

As I heard my husband (who is not an early riser) pulling on clothes at 5AM for a stress-run, I asked half into my pillow, already feeling heavy and sickened, if it was really true.  Yes.  The disorientation of a slow rumbling  earthquake, the shock of the ground itself moving. So many structures we've all called safe -- will they hold?

I am white.  I have a steady salary.  I can pay rent and have a secure place to live.  I was born a US citizen.  What did it feel like to wake up this morning as a person of color, as an immigrant, as a lesbian or transgender, as someone experiencing homelessness?    

What now?

Many of us spoke yesterday at the polls and our voices didn't carry.  So what do we do with those voices now?  How do we keep speaking without cursing?  I know today brings choice: the choice to spit anger at everyone because I feel angry.  The choice to blame and blame and blame and blame the primarily white, uneducated men of our country, to blame parties, to blame white women, to blame our entertainment industry for normalizing the vulgar, to blame Hilary for being unlikeable, for lying.  To blame our country for lacking leadership.  The blaming list could be long.  Then there's the choice to despair.  To fear.  To project, predict, and become paralyzed.  There's the choice to leave the country -- the jokes about going to Canada are only half in jest.  There's the choice to write off the whole system -- the party we don't like, the candidate we didn't vote for, the people we disagree with -- and to wash our hands of it all and check out.

But -- as true as any of that is -- it won't help.

I grew up at a Quaker school, and the song we always sang was the Shaker song "Simple Gifts." I haven't thought about that for a long time, but this morning, it's in my head.  I had a friend in college who interpreted the end in a new way: "to turn, turn will be our delight, til by turning, turning we come 'round right."  She used the words as a reminder to turn toward when our impulse is to wall up and turn away.  It's been a good reminder throughout marriage.  And what am I if not also married to this country?  So this morning, I have no answers, but can sit with the query, as Quakers would call it, of how to turn toward.

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

I Can Do Whatever I Want

These days, I collapse by 10 every night.  And even with such faithful sleeping, I still hit a midday lull around 2PM and can hardly get through the hour.  I think this has to do with -- well, now that I'm writing, many things, like the adrenaline of the first months of school waring off, and all the germs the kids bring home and smear around the house-- the shift in seasons and daylight.  Mornings are colder and darker, and we're entering the time of year when our rhythms naturally turn inward (yes, even here in sunny California).  In any event, every night, utterly exhausted or not, I go to bed because I have to -- tired Bronwen is not a force to be reckoned with (particularly if you are under 5' tall) -- because rallying the kids out of bed, off to school, through afternoon activities, dinner and back into bed's been burning my emotional energy more than usual; exhaustion's not an option.

I didn't realize how constrictive and rigid this has felt until tonight when I pressed "next" at the end of Gilmore Girls (a pleasure I missed earlier in life) as many times as I wanted.  Ben's out of town and for hours I've been sitting on the couch working on the photo calendar I make every year for my family (because now it's November -?), eating rice krispies and burning through season 3.  Now it's nearly 1:30 in the morning, and I'm getting a bit cross eyed, but it's nice to remember I can do this when I want.  I wasn't sure there for a minute.

Sunday, October 30, 2016


Last week this happened:

Many things to be thankful for: I was driving alone; I walked away without injuries; no one in the other cars was injured; airbags work; though I was on the freeway, I didn't swerve into another lane of fast traffic; car insurance covers a multitude -- the list is long and has grown through the week.

I was warned that my body could lock up after a few days, that my neck pain would get worse, that I should take it easy even if I feel well, that I might panic on the freeway the next time.  Thankfully, none of that happened; my neck and back pain lessened and my shock wore off with each day.  But what did happen is that almost a week later, new bruises appeared on my feet, ankles and legs.  

Looking at them -- finally seeing the reasons I'd been sore in those places -- I thought about how pain often works that way: we feel bad before we see why, or we know only part of why we hurt.

Silas downloaded a program on my computer called Tabby Cats: every time I open a new tab, a little round cartoon cat sits blinking at me with some ridiculous name underneath like "Scandalous Foof" or "Spicy Snowglobe," or "Froofy Sappling" or "Wise Beggar" (I haven't thought about how weird this is until right now).  Just now, my cat was named "Smoochy Rager."

It's funny to mash random adjectives and nouns together, but it's chaotic to feel them collide: one minute we're Smoochy, the next we're Rager, and we didn't see the trip wire hiding between the two.
This week I found the wire, and it had to do with the bruises.  Not the car accident bruises, but the other ones.

Sara, my sister-in-law, visited last weekend, and especially by the last day, it was like home: we sat on the floor, talked, moved furniture around, talked, thrift shopped, dreamed about her moving here, ate pho, talked.

Being together apparently jostled a cork that had been neatly holding inside me.  The day after she left, I sat planning my Monday and thought, "then Maeve and I will go to my mom's house --" JOLT -- 3000 miles away -- my first loss-impulse.  A few days later, the slushy fear and aimlessness of anchoring new lives here geysered up and out for the first time since moving.

It was like the bruises coming to the skin.

I felt better seeing them.  They sorted what hurt and what didn't, and reminded me why.  The bruises told me my story again.

Specifics help quiet the overwhelm -- and, it turns out, reveal the trip wire between the nouns and the adjectives.  So maybe now I can be just Smoochy or just Rager (unfortunately that's not solved), rather than both at the same time.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Back to the Future Backfire

When Silas was four, I wouldn't let him watch all of the Thomas the Train episodes because the trains often were too worried or scared and -- you know -- the emotional intensity.

> enter third child <

Last Friday night I decided it was FINALLY time to watch Back to the Future for movie night -- I've been waiting forever.  Ordinarily, I check Common Sense Media , but I know Back to the Future and doing the math figured I'd certainly watched it multiple times by their ages.
(not perfect math).

Fact: I haven't actually seen the movie in decades and my memories of it are only beyond awesome (minus the Biff-in-the-car scene at the dance, which, planning ahead, I'd thought would present a great opportunity to talk about saying no as a woman and not waiting for a man to come to the rescue.  By the way -- it doesn't present that opportunity).

So we all settled on the couch with bowls of popcorn and a neighbor, even Maeve was squeezed in with us to watch the movie we'd talked about for so long and that Ben and I had dressed up as last Halloween:


(we are the Delorean if you can't tell, with our doors opened)

Let's be clear, the flux capacitor, the story line, the life preserver, "Calvin Klein" and the skateboarding are beyond excellent.  And then there's the language.  Who remembers the language?  Turns out there's a lot of it -- pretty much every few sentences.  At one point, Maeve paused and in a loud voice, with perfect annunciation, asked:
what did he say?  It sounded like BUTT.  HEAD.
Silas squeezed my arm so hard and later asked me,
Mom, why didn't you put her to bed?
(vaguely) I did before it was over, didn't I? 
NO.  She watched the WHOLE things.  Why didn't you take her out?
Silas... I have no idea!  It must have been because I didn't want to miss any of the movie.

You're weird, mom.

I also failed to think through how the unprecedented violence of Doc getting shot with an uzi, the angry shooting terrorists (that carry a different weight these days) or the impact of the car scene, which I did. not. fast.forward. for. no. apparent. reason. would affect my older daughter in particular.

SO, all in all it wasn't my best choice for movie night.  Not to mention that every time my kids see a VW bus (which now is ALL the time), they yell Look!  A terrorist van!!
I have tried to shut this down...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Seasons and how the body talks

I just listened to a podcast (twice) about seasons.  It's worth a listen.

He starts by talking about how we're disconnected from the natural rhythm of light and lightlessness, seasons -- all of the natural world's limitations.  When it's dark, we flip the light switch.  When it's hot, we blast the AC.  We can have it all without too much disruption.

So when there is no light or we do feel cold or it is not the season for peaches, we feel a sense of outrage or injustice (and go to Whole Foods and buy some winter peaches from South America).

Emotionally this is true, also.  I expect  >>pleasantness<<  as a general state.  Not necessary ease, but --- yeah, probably ease -- or at least inconveniences that I can quickly resolve.

Even though the more I live, the more I see how mythical this "norm" is -- my friend's 9 day old's battling with open heart surgery right this minute -- and rationally disregard it, deep down, I still cling to that expectation.

I don't want to feel uncomfortable.
I don't want to be off balance.
I don't want to stand with one season ended (abruptly) and another not yet given shape.
I don't want darkness without the switch to the overhead light.

But here I am.

Last September I unexpectedly plunged into sadness about school starting, and the gloom hung on for a long time.  For weeks I fought it -- This is just normal rhythm -- kids go to school.  Shake it off and move on.  They grow up.  Your job is to let them go -- get over it.  And even with my "pep talks" (judgment), I couldn't sleep, my back ached, my stomach hurt -- low grade discomfort for "no good reason."  Bell talks about how when we don't let ourselves feel, transitions lodge their losses in our bodies, and the grief (whether we think it's "valid" or not) comes out one way or another.

My body is doing a lot of talking right now.  Not just the insatiable craving for bowls of comfort-food-cereal every night:

-This morning Eden found my keys in the lock of the front door where they'd hung all night for anyone who might want to come in
-I forgot Maeve's school lunch -- twice, though it was packed
-I drove Silas and walked him in to an art class that actually starts in October
-Many craigstlist guffaws including driving all the way to a person's house who was selling something entirely different than I'd thought.
- I parked my car several times and left it running (and it's not a silent prius)
-Not even worth going into the mixed up texts I sent to a poor college student who was (and I do say was) a possible babysitter
on and on...

And my dreams have been wild.  Many take place in my childhood neighborhood.  In a matter of seconds I am 14, 20, a newlywed, a mother.  Ben's mother, who died six years ago, has made two appearances.  I've dreamt entire movies full of strangers.

Though I have -- thank God -- good friends and company here who are softening the transition, apparently a large part of my brain is preoccupied and reckoning with identity and all that's in between: the liminal space, once again.

 I wrote about the liminal on the plane ride here and was surprised to find Bell address it also.

liminal: occupying a position at, or on both sides of, of a boundary or threshold.

Yesterday our natural season changed from summer to autumn.  Here in CA, nothing visible happened, as I know nothing visible happened in DC either, or much of anywhere.  But the season shifted nonetheless, and imperceptibly, the physical world will follow until we're squarely in fall.  I'm hoping for the courage to stay standing with feet on both sides of the threshold until both seasons come into focus.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Month One

What may be most indicative of life as I blog (or don't), are the silences.  Here it has been 21 days since I last wrote and nearly a month since we climbed aboard American Air and flew here to live.

We lived the hotel life.
We glamped for a week in an empty house full of neighbors' blankets and aerobeds.
We were surprised by how good it was to be within the walls of our own house, even with cricked necks and only four plastic spoons we kept washing, and even still, when we laid first day of school outfits on the bare floors.  I don't think I would have been so ready for the truck or the work of settling without that bare week.  And I was ready.

But the work!  Settling, unpacking, organizing, building (Ben has ben building), and still, things are only almost-there.  There are several piles that I cannot make budge; there's just no place to put the cords, the old tape recorder, the library book from the DC library that's overdue, the magnets (no magnetic surfaces) or all the printed photographs.

I half wonder why on earth we own things.  There's something beyond wise (and that also makes me feel homesick...) in the ancient bedouin lifestyle.
We are so encumbered by the junk we lug with us and insist on keeping and carrying.
And yet, each of the things is imbued with meaning, memory, or beauty and we like nesting with them.  But really...

It took me two weeks of being here before I woke up teary and missing family.
It took 18 days before I opened my journal and forced myself to name "feeling words."

It's strange, like so many periods of life are, to be brimming with such internal dichotomy: on the one hand *happiness* to be back here in this sunny, salt-smelling beauty, with friends we love in a life we'd firmly said goodbye to and suddenly have back (also quite unreal).  On the other hand, we are far from home, cousins, and all the expectations our year held.

I'm wondering how to be true to feeling both full and gutted at the same time -- is it a choice, which we focus on?  Is it denial to charge past the sadness?  Is it wallowing to breathe it in?  The other night, my friend Danny reminded me there has to be room for it all -- to allow whatever the moment holds.  Apparently this is hard for me beyond the concept.

September has begun and here in the middle, all the kids sniffling and sneezing with fresh colds.  Maeve's had a fever -- again -- for days, and I, since the moment we left home, continue to teeter right on the brink of well, pounding vitamin C.   This steady care taking has added to the (gift of?) dullness that's glazed over all the feelings.

This morning, sick-ish Maeve and I have made a batch of mediocre gluten free chocolate chip cookies (yet another attempt to feed the deep and hungry in me that won't be sated with food), and now I've sent Maeve to watch Octonauts, so I can finish spray painting a doll bed for her birthday tomorrow and write here.  Between coats of pale pink paint (now all over my hands and the grass), I'm sitting here with the computer on my lap and a stack of papers from back to school night that all require either reflective thinking about a child or check writing, neither of which I feel like doing.

Maeve just started school, so soon -- soon! -- I will move into a bit of rhythm.  Until then -- on y va!