Saturday, October 30, 2010


Almost Halloween

The strange faces of carved pumpkins greet me at doorsteps. Wide toothy grins, or grimaces, o’s of surprise or intimidation. Faces carved into these front porch orange moon fruits. Lights flickering inside to welcome in good spirits or scare away bad ones. The ones carved last week have already begun to wilt—their mouths sunken and toothless, their eyes melting at strange angles like parts of a Salvador Dali painting.

All my life I’ve loved pumpkins—for their color, their heft, and for their association with the holiday of disguises, mystery, and free candy. I love the way that heavy orb so easily gives to hollowing. The seeds easy to scoop out, the cavern inside growing with each pass of a scoop. And all this work to make way for a face and a flickering candle. A few strokes of the knife are all we need to form a connection with this beautiful squash—to feel somehow that we now understand the jack-o-lantern in a way we did not when it was simply the blank orange pumpkin. We remove the vegetable string and seeds of the thing and then carve it into our own image—finally putting a light in the head in hopes perhaps of imparting a good idea along with that new and strangely grinning face. Or like Dr. Frankenstein perhaps we hope to impart a little life to our new creation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The Birds

Yesterday I saw a large flock of seagulls swirling in the dark sky. It was both beautiful and eerie—like a scene from The Birds. The gull is a surprisingly big bird and recently while viewing them up close on the beach I imagined what would happen if all the ones just there on the beach—around 20—decided to attack. I knew they could definitely do some damage to me, and if they worked together, they could probably have carried off my two year old son. I guess thoughts of this nature are what inspired Daphne du Maurier’s short story which inspired the screenplay for Hitchcock’s famous film. But as I watched that large flock yesterday cartwheeling together though a darkening sky, I of course imagined the scenes from the movie where the birds swirl in and attach school children or the outrageously forward Melanie. And I thought of being surrounded by that gaggle of seagulls, before the first peck of the beak or rip of the talons there would be a moment where all you could hear would be wingbeats and all you could see would be wingbeats and the moment before you were torn apart would be a wild tornado of beauty.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Pain and Being.

My migraine headaches begin with surreal peripheral vision. The corners of my visual perception begin to dance and go snowy as though my TV antennae suddenly tipped over or my cable company is slowly pulling the plug. Often there is no pain for a long while, just this snowstorm that thickens but never blots out my vision entirely.

The waiting is dreadful. I’ve had enough migraines to know that pain and nausea are coming—enough to send me to bed and perhaps enough to dissolve me to tears for hours. So I sit with my dancing vision and the dread begins to fill up the spaces in my body.

Last night’s migraine was subtler than most and I’d like to think my reaction had something to do with that. Migraines happen with I’ve been doing 100 things and still feel that I have more to do. Yesterday I stuffed every centimeter of my day with doing. It wasn’t a bad day—just busy. I woke up and got my son breakfast and dressed, rushed off to the grocery story, stopped by the Mac store to pick up my computer, watched my son play with the trains at Barnes and Noble, drove home, got him milk, worked on the computer while my partner put my son to sleep, drove out to pick up some fresh bread, arrived home and ate, picked up clutter, swept, got my son out of bed, played outside in the dirt, came inside, gave my son and I a bath, cooked dinner, burned dinner, cooked dinner again, chased my son around the house begging him to eat, ate, sat down to read my son a book. And this is when the snow started.

It was a pleasant day—fun but busy. But nowhere in that day did I slowly sip a cup of tea, or stare blankly out the window, or listen to a favorite song. Nowhere did I rest. These are the days that produce migraines.

Yesterday, instead of continuing to work until the pain became unbearable like I have a time or two in the past, I lay down in a dark room before the pain even started. I breathed deeply and kept myself as still as possible. Years ago I read a Joan Didian essay where she writes about her own migraines and about how she believes they are her body’s need to be still. When she becomes still the pain lessens. So I too became still.

Then there in the dark breathing deeply, keeping still I had a perfect moment. My body settled right into the present moment. I noticed each breath because I found that if I slightly closed the back of my throat so that I could hear my breathing, my body reverberated slightly and the pain now building in my head did not increase. It did not exactly disappear either, but as I settled more into myself the pain seemed to stay in the same place making it feel further away from me. And because each breath kept that state possible, each breath became the only thought I could have and the moments stretched out to the length of an inhale and then an exhale. And the length of the headache then (or the time before I fell asleep) became an exercise in breathing and stillness. And though I was aware of the pain I mostly just felt like moon light dissipating softly across a dark pool.

Physical pain is such an integral part of human existence. And yet now it is quite common to be prescribed an entire bottle of Percocet for a bump on the head. I understand that there are some kinds of prolonged pain that people just need a relief from. Yet there is an experience that comes from pain—and managing (or even experiencing) that pain that brings about an understanding (and even a blossoming) of our own potential.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

WEEK 10-- surprises

Folding up the Fall

Autumn has dumped out its basket of bright scarves. Sheets of red and yellow have descended onto all the leafed trees in the park and on the ridges and on the roadsides. And we all hope just one of those scarves misses its mark and falls onto the ground where we can fold it up into our pockets and selfishly have all that brightness to ourselves in the warmth of our own homes. If I find one I’ll wrap it up in a package and leave it on the porch of my neighbors who just lost their son. Won’t they be surprised after all their days indoors to open that box and watch the brightest colors of the world spill out over all their sadness.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Week 9: Time

Deliberate Time

Annie Dillard writes “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” While I think she makes an amazing point and pushes me to think about the weight and sacredness of each day, the thought can also be overwhelming in the midst of daily tasks. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t do the dishes, or scrub a toilet, or spend too much time deciding if I should buy the organic can of beans for 25 cents extra. Is this a life I want to claim? To spend a day cleaning house and shopping is necessary, but to spend a life this way?

And yet Tich Nhat Han invites us to dissolve the boundaries between the “sacred and the profane” and approach each activity—even washing the dishes—as though it were the thing we would like to be doing most. He writes “To my mind, the idea that doing the dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in warm water, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands…Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.”

I would like to think it is possible then to live a life of meaning even on the days when nothing gets done except the dishes. Because yes it is true that a life spent doing dishes is not necessarily one to look back on with satisfaction—but either is a life of teaching, or building, or even helping those in crisis or need if you do these things with your mind elsewhere. “Helping” someone while your intellect and heart are not fully engaged on the task can do more damage than help. So a life spent in careless service is not a life spent in service at all—it is just a life spent carelessly. But a life spent doing the dishes slowly and with care is a life that acknowledges that life and time are precious—that your life and your time are important. And if you can find meaning in the act of shining a fork then no task will be beneath or above you.