• introspection,  spirituality,  travel

    What Remains

    I have been spending a quiet weekend of introversion, catching up on some much needed alone time and rest.  It is cold here, so I carefully ran all of the errands that I would need to do this weekend over the previous week, so that I wouldn’t need to leave the house at all from Friday night through Monday morning.  My Beloved, in a deep expression of our differences, has driven six hours north towards all of that famous Buffalo snowfall.  He is hoping for an epic fishing weekend, as all the less hardy fisherpeople will have been scared off by the six feet of snow that has demobilized that city and the surrounding area.

    It does take all kinds to run the world.

    I have been soaking up the quiet, like a pumice stone floating in water. Life has been very busy lately, between the baby shower and concerts and baby education classes and all the doctor’s and dentist appointments, so the chance to sit and nap and read and listen to silence has been a luxury. I have been researching a new writing project, which has filled my time with an artistic exhilaration.  Even though I have not yet put more than a single sentence to paper in the actual writing, I am filled with ideas and plot and characterization.  I love this part of a project; when all is possibility and excitement.  The writing itself is harder than the dreaming, but the dreaming is a great deal of fun.  This project is historical fiction, so the idea is that spending some time doing research before starting to write will save a great deal of time down the road.  Dreaming and reading and lazying about and thinking justified.  Sometimes the rest before the race is what just what you need.

    We head down to Virginia on Wednesday for our annual Thanksgiving trip.  It is one of my absolute favorite times of the year, when I get to spend several days visiting with some of my oldest friends.  We’ve been doing this Thanksgiving celebration for about a decade now and I don’t think I have ever missed it.  I’m not technically supposed to go this year, since I’m in the third trimester now, but I figure the emotional benefit outweighs any physical risk.  It will be my last trip before the trip to the labor ward.

    Over the years, the Thanksgiving crowd has changed and grown, as any family does.  The people that I bring with me and leave behind have shifted too, as my own life has fluctuated over the last decade.  Yet this one trip every year works as my focal point — reminding me that there are certain parts of my life that stay steady, even when everything else seems in flux.  That grounding is more important this year than ever.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, as is probably natural for a woman in her first pregnancy.  Traditionally, I go visit her grave at Arlington Cemetery during this trip, which is an important moment of connection and catharsis for me.  It surprises me every year, but I almost always cry when I’m there.  Some years, it is the only time I cry all year long. This year, I’m looking forward to my visit, so that I can introduce her to the seven-month-old fetus that I’m carrying around.  I think she would have been pleased beyond words by having a granddaughter.  I have had a good deal of sorrow that this child will only know one of her four grandparents, since I am so close to mine.  I know she will have other people that will fill those roles in her life, but I can’t help but be saddened by it all the same.

    I always feel strange talking to a grave.  My mom’s ashes are inserted in a cavity in a wall that holds the ashes of many other veterans of this country’s military.  It is a courtyard, with granite nooks for ashes surrounding the visitor on all sides.  When I put her ashes in the cavity, the nooks were mostly empty.  Now, seven years later, the cavities have all filled.  Our conversations grow ever less private.  I look over the dates on the graves surrounding her and count the ages of her neighbors — I wonder how many other visitors come and see the forty-eight years between her birth and death and are moved to pity…and no small amount of curiosity.

    Still, I am looking forward to talking with what remains of her.  There are just some things your mother should know, even if she can no longer hear what you have to say.

  • family,  friends,  spirituality

    Survive and Thrive: Christmas

    The last few weeks have been a delightful buzz of activity, as the weather has gotten colder and we have actually had a few snowy days.  Not snow days, mind — this is, after all, New York, where trains make it much more feasible to go to work on days that a car would never get you there.  We have been operating under a fairly fractured family schedule, with My Beloved working the night shift, and our House Teenager (who is almost not-a-teenager now, yikes) working all sorts of crazy hours since he’s working retail in December.  Yet, despite our inability to all be home simultaneously, we have managed to put up a tree, get it decorated and put some lights on the front of the house.  That even happened as I was writing my big term paper at the end of the semester, which makes me particularly proud.

    Sometime in the middle of that, it struck me that this is the first Christmas season that I’ve actually just enjoyed without making an express effort to do so.  Usually this is a very challenging time of year for me, when I have to remind myself of my philosophy of conscious positivity pretty much daily.  Both the holiday season and the sudden onset of cold weather contribute to this, and I do not have a great history of dealing well with either one.  For many years, Christmas not only felt like an empty holiday for me, but almost like a personal attack as I took in all the media showing the perfect day with our perfect extended families in beautifully decorated perfect houses.  My reality was more typically a day spent with myself or a friend, because my relatives were all far away, having their Christmas celebrations together.  Before I moved to New York, I would sometimes spend it with my mom, but that had its own challenges.  She dealt with the season little better than I did, between her own conflicted feelings about family and her depression, and my time spent with her was always filled with criticism.  Christmas has always been associated with the sense that I just couldn’t do it right. I have a picture of her from my 21st Christmas, where she’s pointing at a price tag that I left on a present that I gave her.  I remember this picture better than any other picture that I have of her, because so often that is what our relationship felt like.  Look at your mistakes.

    I regret so much that we didn’t have more years together, because our relationship looked like it was going to improve.  She died so young and so suddenly that I’ll never know.  And I regret that my main memory of her involvement in my adult life was that I never did things to her satisfaction. I often get feedback from even my closest friends that I do things too well — that I have a superhuman ability of life accomplishment — and I sometimes wonder how much of it stems from never being good enough for the two people who were supposed to always accept my failure.  I suspect that most overachievers have a similar understanding; that we must always be doing more because what we have done can never really be enough.  If we’ve managed to accomplish the thing, then it must have been too easy to be meaningful.  I got a 97% in the class I took this last semester — instead of being proud of that, I thought, “Well, the professor must be an easy grader.” An A, of course, was the bare minimum, but scoring so highly must have been a fluke. It is not actually very satisfying.

    So I keep throwing myself against new challenges, hoping to find that one that some day will mean that I have done enough.  I’m sure you can see how the Christmas madness just feeds into that — the one thing that you’re not supposed to have on Christmas is an empty house.  To not be surrounded by your loving extended family on Christmas means you’ve failed — and I’ve only ever been around my extended family on Christmas twice in my life.

    People with childhood backgrounds like mine have to make their own families.  We make them from friends, largely, though I’ve been blessed to be able to get to know both sides of my family better now that I’m an adult.  Neither of my parents made it much of a priority for me to spend time with my relations, who all lived at least half a country away, and I didn’t have the sort of growing up experiences with my cousins and grandparents that so many people do.  Christmas, of course, enhanced that isolation, as I was often shuttled from my mom’s house to my dad’s house to have two different lonely celebrations.  Yet some of my fondest memories of my mom are from when I was little and we would prepare for Christmas.  I remember making ornaments out of construction paper, decorating the tree, baking cookies for Santa.  I still put out the Yule log every year that we bought when I was fourteen — and each time I pull it out of its storage box, I think about that day in the mall, trying to convince her that we needed it– and then the glee when she decided that she would buy it for me.  I put up her miniature tree and put on the reindeer antlers that belonged to her.  All of these memories, at last, have no sting at all, because now I have made my own family, which is now just an augmentation to my blood family that I have come to get to know.

    This year my house will not be perfect.  Our decorations aren’t as nice as they’ve been in some years past.  I won’t have cookies baked, punch made or carols sung.  But I will take my little family to two different households of friends on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day and celebrate the connections that I’ve created in my life, which are giving this holiday new meaning.  It took a long time to drop my baggage, but I think I could maybe even come to love Christmas.

    But we’ll just leave that one for next year.

  • spirituality

    Competitive yoga

    I’ve started going to yoga classes several times a week again.  Part of me is kind of appalled that this is newsworthy, as yoga has been a really important thing in my life for about a decade now, but the last year has been busy and finding classes that worked with my new kid-responsible schedule was difficult.    But that’s a bunk reason to not do something that I really enjoy, so I’ve rescheduled when I go to the gym to match up with when the yoga classes are offered there.

    One of the things about me is that I am not remotely athletic; I’m not even distantly related to the second-cousin of natural athletic ability.  I was the kid that was picked last in gym and for some pretty good reasons.  My vision sucks, which makes sports with balls not a very good match.  Other kids figured this out pretty quickly.

    When I started taking yoga, all of the above was true.  Then I had a teacher that came from the ballet world and she described what our bodies were supposed to be doing in a way that actually made sense to me.   Yoga requires a very different way of moving than that which Western bodies are used to doing.  It has a distinct learning curve, as your body strengthens and your flexibility increases.  I was in no way naturally good at it, but I was fascinating by the dance of it, the movement and the flow of breath.  I kept going back.  I kept practicing.  And, after a few months, I had a form in the mirror that I was really, really proud of, because I finally had an athletic control of my own body.  Yoga makes me feel strong and, in some ways, beautiful.  The poses, when done well, are visible representations of strength.

    And it’s peaceful.  When I leave a yoga class, I find that I am kinder, more open and more accepting of people.  I leave filled with more loving-kindness than when I entered.  My teachers talk about things like gratitude, accepting ourselves for who we are and accepting others.  To truly practice yoga, you must also practice things like giving up judgement and criticism.  You are meant to accept your body the way it is today and to work with the things you have today.  These are brilliant lessons for real actual life.

    Except, of course, it’s not easy to drop your ego in favor of the good of the community.  I was astounded by the negativity of my own brain in my first class back – I was weirdly competitive, despite practicing a non-competitive exercise.  I was not accepting, I was judgmental.  All of which misses the point entirely, but I was unable to drop my judgement of my own abilities, which were not up to the same level of performance as I’d managed when I was practicing yoga regularly.

    By the end of the class, I’d pointed myself back in the right direction, with a solid reminder of why I do yoga in the first place.  Yoga makes me like people.  It’s a better place to be.  I am really glad to be back.