Journaling-in-depth allows us the opportunity to listen to our untended parts, to begin to nourish them, to help them feel their ways through their feelings.
Journaling-in-depth allows us to bring into awareness the often less than conscious shaping influences from societal, cultural and familial messages, to begin to challenge their truths and their relevance to our lives.
Journaling-in-depth allows us to begin separating our authentic inner voice from the internalized chorus of these external messages.
The Impact of Outside Voices
We are all, to some greater or lesser degree, affected by living in a crazy-making, toobusy, out-of-balance world where the cultural trance of more, bigger, faster, do-it yesterday sets the bar for what makes us feel worthy. Media images of success and beauty bombard us daily, liminally and subliminally, with idealized and photoshopped standards against which we are encouraged to measure ourselves. Inevitably, our merely human selves fall short of these impossible standards. It’s a world that is feelings-phobic, particularly averse to any emotions of the so-called dark or shadow sort (namely, anything other than joy or bliss.) Is it any wonder that even those of us fortunate enough to have had fairly positive parenting in our families of origin frequently find ourselves dealing with the sense that we’re either not enough or too much to be considered worthwhile or lovable.
We may hide our sadness or depression in order not to be seen as a “downer,” a pariah. We may feel ashamed or guilty about the slightest bit of anger or rage – it’s so not what nice girls should feel or else it’s so “unevolved.” And, particularly poisonously, some currently popular New Age flap would have us believe that letting ourselves feel any so called negative emotions will only attract more of the same. Therefore, this framing insists, we should avoid such at all costs. Never mind that stuffing them can wreak havoc in our bodies and psyches!
During the months since last I wrote here (at the end of February), I’ve been reveling in the annual miracle of spring blossoming into the fullness of summer in my garden, the meadow and around Ojai. Yet, until today, I’ve not felt moved to chronicle either that unfolding or my own.
Along with the many other droppings-away of years-old rituals and habits that began for me last November, writing here almost monthly has no longer felt as organic as it once did. Lately, I’ve needed simply to be immersed in whatever I’ve been drawn into. It’s felt as though coming away from the immediacy of my life to reflect on or write about it would interfere with its natural course. I’ve not wanted to step out of the flow. For no particular reason I can discern, it now seems right to do that, so here I am.
Last month, the gardeners cut down the almost chest high wild grasses in the meadow along with a first-in-ten-years-here sprinkling of wild lupine. Now, the returning annual carpet of pale pink wild morning glory is punctuated with random clumps of golden California poppy, purple-headed artichoke and blue common phacelia (that, in my past ignorance, I’ve called bachelor buttons). The kitties, losing their stalking veld, have at last ceased acting as seed-dispersal units daily depositing all manner of stickers throughout the cottage. Without the high grasses the meadow, as always, looks vaster.
The garden in containers around the cottage is at its lushest. Lavish greenery serves as background to so much vibrant color: roses in red, deep pink, yellow, butterscotch, lavender and magenta; gallardia, rudebeckia, milkweed, nasturtium, day lilies, marigolds, kangaroo paws and dahlias in yellows, golds and oranges; platycodon, petunias, lavender, lantana, freeway daisy, lisanthus and Lily of the Nile in shades of purple; dianthus, lisanthus and Shasta daisy accents in white; begonias in deepest reds.
At the moment, Bok choi, arugula, mustard greens, cress, bronze leaf and romaine lettuces, three kinds of kale, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, along with peppermint, spearmint, rosemary and two kinds of oregano provide for daily salads and sautéing greens. Hanging baskets of strawberries offer a small handful of ripe berries every morning.
The mini orchard at the edge of the meadow provided mulberries and a first (mini) crop of blueberries last month. There are tiny Meyer lemons, baby apples of two varieties, a very few still-green Mineola tangelos and a bounty of baby persimmons all still slowly developing. The plum, apricot, Mandarin orange, Persian mulberry and ruby red grapefruit trees are growing well even though not yet bearing fruit in this, their second year on the property. A Bearss lime tree that seemed moribund after the January frost has recently started setting forth new branches; so glad I hadn’t yet dug it up!
The frost-devastated jade, schefflera and split leaf philandenron plants have abundantly re-leafed as have the sage, mint and freeway daisy plants that I cut back just a couple of weeks ago (they’d all gotten too leggy). Everything grows so quickly in these long hot days, despite a much-reduced watering schedule. We’re all finding ways to conserve water use in the face of this terrible drought and, so far, my garden is managing to thrive on less water than it’s been used to in the past.
Last month the crickets returned to the meadow after their winter absence. A new (or returning) mocking bird has taken up residence and discovered it likes the resonance that comes with performing its hilarious repertoire while perched on the metal cap atop my chimney. The hawks and their nattering crow companions are around in renewed numbers.
The garden is always a reminder of death and rebirth, of growth that’s invisible or underground for long or short periods of time before blossoming forth again. In the middle of our endlessly busy, always in motion, more-bigger-faster-done-with-it-yesterday cultural craziness, this reminder is so healing, so affirming of the naturalness of seemingly fallow time. And, it reveals again and again that cycles of cutting back (by frost or pruning shears) strengthen and prepare for new growth in its own time.
This reminder brings me daily comfort as I deepen into doing less and less of anything in these months since the shift in me last November. That shift had come on the heels of almost two years of resting-on-my-laurels after the intense seasons of getting both my book and the workbook out into print. For all the endless clamor in the healthy-aging media about the importance of developing both new mental and physical challenges and strong social networks as well as the similar messages about the importance of getting out in public to market one’s books, all I’m up for doing these days is hibernating: reading, being with (and by) my self and my sweet kitties and – only if and when the spirit moves me – tending the garden, the seed feeding- and humming-birds; walking and doing the occasional bit of yoga/free weight/Pilates/restorative exercise. The stretches between serious housecleaning grow longer and longer. Though I automatically keep up with the kitchen and bathroom surfaces and do daily cat-hair removal with my trusty static brushes, sticky rollers and stick vacuum, my tolerance for dust keeps expanding. A bone-deep need for order in my space keeps the cottage always looking/feeling neat and tidy despite the thickening layers of dust.
There are projects waiting for my attention: making replacement slipcovers for all the furniture in the studio (the Ikea bedspreads stockpiled in the shed waiting to be cut and sewn); making new covers for all the sun-bleached throw pillows (the yards of caramel, black and white mud cloth waiting there as well); replacing twenty ten-year old solar path lights with the new ones stowed in my shed; some further writings about the process of healing the legacy of woundings from the neglectful, abusive, cold or mean parenting by damaged mothers; some writings on the importance of allowing our selves to feel, honor the messages of and safely release our anger; possibly putting together a chapbook of the shorter, more recent essays written for the Compassionate Ink Facebook page. At the moment, it all feels like too-much-work. I have no inclination to address any of it. I trust that at some point, just as I’ve turned up here to write this, an organic flow will move me into any one of these projects.
I‘m fascinated by how comfortable and freeing it feels to not be pushed by having these projects waiting in the wings. For many years, I’ve been dedicated to waiting for the energy to organically emerge and lead me into any doings. Still, having or seeing things in my life or space that needed addressing could push me to trying to instigate the arrival of such energy. Now, despite having these several clear to-dos in the background, I have no yearning for the get-up-and-go to rise in me. This feels to be a more-profound-than-ever surrender into allowing Spirit/my deep self to be in charge.
Part of this surrendering has included having less contact with even the precious women in my tiny circle of intimate friends. Though we all live in our lives deeply connected with our selves, at times merely hearing tales from their busier, more complex and peopled lives can feel exhausting/overwhelming. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been simply tending the various living beings in and around my cottage. I still have occasional, mostly by phone, visits with my dear friends, random street-meet conversations with women I know while I’m wandering around town doing errands and spend about 17 hours a month with the dear clients I see on two days every other week. Yet, I realize that, more and more, I’m inclined to get what little social fix I might want from dipping in and out of being with the characters in the books I’m reading or listening to on CDs.
Sometimes, briefly, I slip into outside-eyes, momentarily wondering if it’s really okay to be this pulled away from everything and everyone. Yet, since this withdrawal feels so incredibly nourishing and right-for-me-now, such outside-eyes concerns fall away quickly. I’ve no way of knowing if this is simply an indeterminate fallow season, prelude to some new cycle of moving back out into the world/connection or whether it’s a path that I might continue on for the rest of my days. I don’t seem to care one way or the other and that pleases me.
Amazingly enough, the Grandmothers arrange to take me on learning journeys even in my much-narrowed Universe. One morning this past month, I woke to discover the four hummingbird feeders outside my desk window densely carpeted with bees. The hummers couldn’t get near the feeding ports and there were random bees coming into my study through the gap that I leave between the French doors so the kitties can come and go as they please. I was kept busy doing catch and release of visiting bees all morning. Since, for these last dozen years, I’ve been highly allergic to bee stings (always carrying an Epi-pen to prevent going into anaphylactic shock), this was not a workable situation. Nor was waiting till the bees left for their hives at dusk. Instead, I found a local bee specialist who, for a sizeable (but well worth it) service call fee, came by within the hour to take down the mobbed feeders and shake loose the bees.
According to this kind man – who hangs sugar water feeders on his property for the bees that live in hives there – the bee population in Ojai is in distress, struggling to find adequate nourishment in the midst of our severe drought conditions. Some scout bee had obviously found the bonanza of my eleven feeders filled with sugar water and (as I remember learning in graduate school) gone back to its hive to do a waggle dance that communicated to its hive mates the exact coordinates they’d need to find their way to this bounty. Now here they all were!
Oh, the challenges of feeding hummingbirds and orioles! Though I’d long ago solved the problem of marauding ants by using ant moats (hanging water-filled cups from which the feeders then descend), the bee problem was perplexing. One possible solution: taking down the feeders for a period of time so the bees learn not to come there any more. Unfortunately, doing this would give the hummers the same message. Not, for me, an acceptable option.
Instead, briefly, I tried a set of smaller-capacity dish feeders whose design supposedly makes it harder for the bees to reach the sugar water that hummers, with their long tongues, would be able to reach. The bees persisted, sigh! Someone on Google suggested using peppermint, lavender or citronella oil in the moats of these dish feeders; bees supposedly are repelled by these scents while hummers could care less. Alas, this approach regrettably led to numerous bee-drownings in the moats filled with water and drops of the peppermint oil that was meant to repel them, sigh! Every day, Google research brought new possible solutions; none of them worked. I persisted, nonetheless.
Then, a Japanese gardener on Google and the local bee specialist provided the perfect answer. A sort of if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em plan. So, I am now feeding bees as well as orioles, hummers and seed feeding birds. Using a more concentrated sugar solution in them, I hung three new formerly-hummingbird-now-bee feeders in the persimmon tree at the near edge of the meadow but not too far from the patio. The idea: have the sweeter solution entice the bees away from the patio feeders so that the hummers could have unimpeded access again. Alas, once the ants found these new feeders, the bees avoided them. Mayonnaise on the hangers helped keep the ants away till three more ant moats arrived from Amazon. Now, at last, the hummers can, un-harassed, get at their feeders (the larger capacity ones that, unlike the dish feeders, work for both the hummers and the orioles). The orioles feed on the patio but also at the bee feeders when the bee population there abates intermittently throughout the day.
The whole process of figuring out what to do reminded me of something I once read about gardening: “weeds are what we call the things that are growing where we don’t want them to be growing.” The bees were being a nuisance only when they were somewhere I didn’t want them to be. I didn’t want to get rid of them; enough of them are dying off already. I just needed them to know their place here. Now they do. It was interesting to see that though I was perplexed until I found a resolution, I never felt annoyed or angry at the bees; I understood they were only trying to find nourishment and survive.
Anger at them only came much later. I’d been being so careful around the bee feeding area, mindful to not agitate or threaten them so I they wouldn’t sting me. Then, on a Saturday a month ago, getting down off the ladder (barefoot) after re-hanging a feeder on the patio, I stepped on an unseen, moribund bee. (Even before all this business with the bees, I’d occasionally find a dead or dying bee on the patio.) Of course, it stung me – on the bottom of the middle joint of my big toe.
I got so pissed! It felt so unfair. This bee clearly hadn’t gotten the memo about what a Good Samaritan I was being to his tribe.
I absolutely hate what it feels like after I give myself the shot of epinephrine – which I, nonetheless, always do immediately. Taking some Benadryl, vibrating with the speediness of the drugs as I gathered what I needed to take care of my self at the Emergency Room (always where one goes after taking the shot that immediately jacks up your heart rate and blood pressure as it averts the anaphylactic reaction to the venom), I, while pouring my take-along tea, scalded my hand. Crying with frustration and agitated from the drugs, I calmed my self enough to drive the two miles to the hospital. There, the usual drill: blood pressure, heart and oxygen monitoring till my heart rate (120) and blood pressure (180/66) returned to normal. This trip it took almost three hours for that to happen. Fortunately, I had my tea, a sweatshirt for warmth and a good book. And, our small-town, recently remodeled, quite beautiful, well staffed and never busy ER is as good as it gets as a place to hang out when you must. Unfortunately, despite the meds, I still was having lots of allergic all-over itching for a good part of the time. They couldn’t give me a Benadryl shot because I’d be driving my self home. It seemed more bother than I was willing to go through to get someone to come take me home and then have to deal with both the people contact and the issue of retrieving my car. So, I made do with ice packs piled onto to the worst of the itchy areas. It was good I hadn’t had any pressing plans for my day.
I couldn’t believe it when, just exactly three weeks later, I got stung again! This time I was way over on the far side of the property doing my laundry when a bee flew up my pant leg. I knew not to rub at it but, when I pulled my pants away from my body hoping to give it more room to escape, I obviously scared it into stinging me on the back of my thigh (my right side this time). Oddly, I was much calmer about all of it this go ‘round. Came back to the cottage for my shot and some Benadryl, doing calming breaths the whole time as I again (but without incident!) prepared my take-alongs and headed to the ER. The sting felt less painful and the drug-speediness seemed more tolerable this time. The ER nurse and the intake people couldn’t believe I was there again. Well, neither could I. This time everything went back to my normal levels (72 and 108/60) within a half hour and I left for home just an hour after arriving there. Apparently, all stings are not equal. The venom from the dying bee was way more intense than that from the in-my-pants bee. And, the calming breathing helped me not get so wound up from the epinephrine. Still, I was pretty pissed that I’d gotten stung twice in three weeks even though I’ve now been feeding hordes of bees for many weeks and been so mindful around their feeders and of where I put my bare feet. Ingrates!
There was a distressing sidelight to this misadventure. After using my Epi-pen for the first sting, I went to the pharmacy to replace my inventory (it’s always safer to have two around in case one doesn’t do the trick). I keep my prescription with Rite Aid so that I’m in a nationwide computer and could replace my pens anywhere I might be when I’d need to do that. They come in a two-pack and, this past November, I’d had to replace the two unused but expired pens I had on hand then ( a not-uncommon experience) . I was shocked at the time to hear that, even with my Plan D Humana drug discount, the cost to me was $350.00. The previous two-pack, purchased a year before that, had cost $250. I’d thought, even at $250, the pricing was outrageous; especially since, without the drug plan discount, it would cost almost twice that. This time, another seven months later, the replacement cost was $375: utterly insane. People who can demonstrate indigence can usually get this sort of essential drug free or at nominal cost by going through whatever time-consuming rigmarole the specific drug company might require. Fortunately, I’m among the people who can actually afford such a price. But, what about the whole, huge number of people in between: those who don’t qualify as indigent but who can’t handle such an exorbitant fee for a life-saving medication for themselves or their children who have any sort of serious allergies. I can’t believe how crazy and out of control Big Pharma is.
Despite living in a world that gets crazier every day (Donald Trump running for president; unarmed African-American men being shot by police almost daily; ethnic cleansings in so many places; lunatic shooters showing up weekly; ISIS and Boko Haram creating murderous havoc) I’m filled with enormous gratitude for the blessings in my life: for being able to, and feeling free to, live the outlier way that feels so nourishing to me; for (my bee-sting adventures and allergy-eyes exhaustion notwithstanding) feeling healthy, strong and happy both with my life and with who I am at seventy-four and a half; and, perhaps most of all, for having issues as minimal as the bees-in-the-hummingbird-feeders be, at this moment in time, the biggest challenges I have to face. I know this may not always be the case, but I’m delighting that it is for now and for however long it may continue to be so.
That’s all there is to tell about life in my little corner of paradise at this moment. Wishing you gentleness….
From the opening of Robyn's book, Go Only As Fast As Your Slowest Part Feels Safe to Go: Tales to Kindle Compassion and Gentleness for Our Exhausted Selves.
Follow us on Facebook at Compassionate Ink.
Some Thoughts on Mother’s Day:
Like myriad other women who were raised by cold, uncaring, mean, neglectful or abusive mothers, every upcoming Mother’s Day was a painful trial for me. Standing at the card rack, reading through endless Mother’s Day cards searching for a card I could actually send to the woman who birthed me, I’d weep in anguish. I’d feel overwhelmed by grief and longing for what I’d never had, for what the cards suggested everyone else must have had: a loving, tender, caring and beloved mom.
For the first 30 years of my life, until my mother died, I continued to treat my self as uncaringly and critically as she had; I knew no better. Once she died, I was led to begin the now 44-year-long journey to becoming a loving, compassionate, fiercely protective mother to the abandoned, love-starved child inside me.
Along the way of this remarkable journey, something magical unfolded. The Great Mother and Spirit Grandmothers came to enfold and support me and the fledgling Mommy-Inside that I was growing for my self.
So, on this special day I celebrate and give thanks to the Grandmothers, the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, zany and outrageous band of ancient spirit beings that guide, nudge,whisper in my heart and protect me along the way of my extraordinary journey. (Visit Compassionate Ink on FB or forthelittleonesinsode.com.com)
While so much of the rest of the country has been being battered by blizzarding snow, gale force winds and below freezing temperatures, Ojai – with days of temperatures in the high seventies and low eighties – has moved exuberantly into spring.
The season’s first daffodil unfurled in my garden; acacia longiflora trees along the eastern edge of the meadow are covered in bright yellow blooms. Rose bushes, pruned to nubbins little more than a month ago, are leafing lavishly with new branches sprouting daily – all as if in a speeded up time lapsed film. Purple and white gremlin-faced pansies that I plant at pruning time (for color in the pots of the so-recently crew-cut rose bushes) are cheering this rebirth. Reviving after the frosts of several mid-twenty degree nights in early January, purple petunias cascade over the edges of their pot. Magenta verbena, having survived those frosty nights, flourishes nearby. In all the pots I’d pruned severely (just a few weeks ago) to remove the sad, frost-fried remnants of last year’s lushness – gaillardia, fuchsia, spearmint, rudebeckia, geranium, dahlia, milkweed and lisanthus – new leaves are emerging daily.
My enormous old jade plant, devastated as usual by the frosts, has all sorts of baby leaves already showing on its so-recently stripped branches. The garden is a miracle of death and rebirth every year at this time. Everything that gets fried by frosts or severely pruned back by me returns heartier than ever. This month, I’ve had my amazing woman gardener come by to prune all the new and old fruit trees in my mini-orchard. Many of the new trees suffered in the frosts and I lost a whole crop of baby Meyer lemons. Still, there’s promise of the same sort of resurrection in the orchard: I see new leaves and leaf buds peeking out on the branches of every tree and flowers appearing on my blueberry bushes
Four kinds of kale, collard greens, red and green mustards, bok choi, arugula, two kinds of lettuce, two kind of oregano and a pot of peppermint continued producing through the freezing temperatures, providing me with an uninterrupted supply of fresh greens for salads and steaming.
Around town (as in my mini-orchard) stone fruit trees are beginning to flower in white and various shades of pink, carpets of wild yellow oxalis are everywhere while occasional stands of orange birds-of-paradise bloom and all the open fields are awash in wild yellow mustard. After some soaking (though not drought-ending) rains this past month, the foothills (and my meadow) are sporting great swaths of velvety-looking green as the wild grasses spring up like crazy. Driving to Santa Barbara over the back, mountain road this week, there were myriad lush stands of bright yellow coreopsis and wild mustard, patches of purple wild horseradish, pale blue ceanothus bushes everywhere and occasional glimpses of golden yellow tree tobacco, purple lupine and even some orange poppies.
There’s been an owl around most nights lately, not a great horned nor a screech by the sound of it. I’ve not a clue what specie it might be though it has a lovely soft call. The crickets have been gone from the meadow for the winter (such as it’s been) though lately there are a couple of frogs nightly gribbeting somewhere close by – I think, perhaps, in my neighbor’s fountain – and, occasionally, the local clan of coyotes sets to night-time yipping across nearby orchards. A new (or perhaps returning) mockingbird has taken up residence, delighting me daily with its exuberant and hilarious repertoire. Though their population and variety has diminished in these fall and winter months, numberless hummingbirds have wintered-over, surviving the freezes and keeping me busily (though not as frequently) refilling the nine feeders hanging over my patio. Dove, sparrow, house finch, cunning blue jays, acrobatic squirrels and an occasional titmouse regularly and noisily hang out around my seed feeders. Red-tail hawks are cavorting overhead with contingents of nattering crows frequently taunting them. It’s a beautiful, sweet time of year here in my corner of paradise.
For months (since late September when last I wrote here) I haven’t – other than for the words of my Solstice/New Year’s card and letter (that came in early December) – had much of anything to say. I’ve needed to continue in the resting, drifting, not-reflecting mode that’s what this past year has been about for me. Now, it seems that I’m emerging into a spring/new season in my own life, wanting to chronicle the extraordinary-feeling shift that’s happening in me.
Looking back from where I find my self today, it seems that the shifting began during my annual mid-to-late November birthday retreat (a 10 to 12 day time I always do right here in my cottage and garden). While, for the most part, I enter these days without plan or agenda, opening to whatever the Grandmothers/Spirit may bring into the space, a small few rituals/ceremonies have long been a significant part of these retreats. This year, none of those had any juice for me. Although it felt quite odd that this was so, there was nothing for it but to shrug and let it all go. Repeating what once had meaning – but would, at this point, have felt like form without substance – was definitely not an option.
During the first few retreat days, I was visited by a nudgy little voice that, though not at all mean, seemed a distant relation to my old, now-defanged inner critic. This gentle, soft-spoken nudge kept suggesting that I “might well be doing a disservice to my book and the thread [I] carry in the tapestry-of-life” by not being out there doing readings and interviews and talks. Each time she repeated the message, I told her that, while what she was suggesting might be so, I had no interest in going/being out there in the world in any of those ways. Nor, I’d add, was I even into engaging in on-line dialog or commentary on/at the Compassionate Ink Facebook page, Google+ circle or twitter address. At this point, I kept telling her, any of those enterprises were less attractive to me than the prospect of having a root canal without anesthesia. I repeatedly reminded her that, by writing and publishing the book, I had completed my assignment from the Grandmothers; that the Grandmothers could be trusted to get the book or its/my message out to wherever it was meant to go without me doing anything that felt wrong for me to do.
We went round and round several times. I kept reminding the nudge that for me to do things based on marketing “shoulds” rather than on what felt right for me would be a violation of the very message I live and share by living. Even so, given her persistence, I occasionally (though only fleetingly) did wonder whether she had a point after all, sigh.
The tiresome, recycling conversation finally ended the day when, while doing my morning Reiki, yet another inner voice entered the conversation. (At moments like this, I’m reminded of Anne Lamott’s hilarious comment: “sometimes sitting alone in my living room, I could be arrested for unlawful assembly.”) This new voice, speaking both to me and the nudge, asked us to think about how many of my friends, acquaintances, family members, health care practitioners and clients have been affected by my incidental sharing about my life/choices over the years. She suggested we reflect on how many of these people have talked to us (and probably their friends, family, etc.) about the permission they took from – and the changes they’ve made in their lives as a result of – hearing my stories. And, she suggested, we might also consider how many folks in each of these people’s lives had likely, in turn, been affected by the stories each of them shared about what permissions they’d given themselves and what similar life changes/choices they’d made. This, the newest voice told us, is how our thread is getting woven into the tapestry-of-life: just by us being who and as we are in our everyday life and living that out-loud. The nudge and I both got it. She quieted down.
In the days ahead, I moved into and through a melancholy nostalgia for the times of being passionately caught up in the process of putting the books (and back some years ago, the website) together. Part of me was missing and pining for the intensity of those seasons of my unfolding. Then, some other part would gently remind me of the costs of such intensity, how exhausting that would feel to me now in this time of needing to be slowed way down and adrift.
The next oddness was around the gift I usually receive from the Grandmothers either before or during my birthday retreat. Heading into the quiet time, I’d gathered a supply of card stock, postage stamps, envelopes, return address labels and labels from my updated mailing list of friends, family, clients and former clients with whom I still have contact. All this in anticipation of what had been, for many years, an annual birthday gift from the Grandmothers of words and an image for a Solstice/New Year’s card. For the first time in 30 years, nothing came during these 12 days. Though surprised and a little disappointed at first, I realized that this lapse was another part of the letting-go-of-what-used-to-be-so process in which I was immersed. Everything I’d gathered would be there for some other year, if and when the elements of a new card might come again.
For more years than I can remember, during the time between my mid-November time-out and my mid-February tax appointment, I’d exuberantly and single-mindedly be swept into a cycle of concentrated year end/year beginning rituals, cleansing and clearing my physical space. Shredding old tax files to make room for this year’s materials, gathering those records, crunching the numbers and compiling them for my tax preparer, redoing desk drawers and receipt files to make space for what will need to be stored through the coming year and setting up folders for this year’s clients’ notes – these were tasks compelling enough to still get my attention.
For the rest of it – winter pruning the garden, wiping the leaves on 18 houseplants, vacuuming 21 hanging fiber masks, laundering 8 loads of slipcovers and sleeping bags, going through every cupboard, drawer, shelf, closet and storage bin in the cottage and the shed to winnow, pitch, recycle and empty space for newness to come in – there was absolutely no juice/energy. Though all of it has for many years been an exhilarating process, this year it all looked like drudgery, too much of what would feel like work. Reading in the hammock or my nap bed was much more appealing so, that’s what I did.
I’d always felt an urgency to get through all of these doings by mid-February so that, after my tax appointment, I would finally be ready to “begin the new year.” I’d wake each morning on a roll, revved to get on with the next task on the agenda. To the current me, all of this looked exhausting and unimportant, nothing I wanted to sign on for – no matter that it had been a long standing and (before now) much treasured tradition.
My attitude toward all of it: a combination of three elements: the first two came up for me in their original Yiddish but here I translate. First: “if I don’t get there today, maybe I’ll get there tomorrow” and second, “there’s nothing to be late for anyway” and then the final piece, “who gives a f_ _k!” My sense: I could take all year to go through my stuff or not even do any of it unless I’d have the inclination.
It’s so odd and so surprising to be in this new place. I’ve felt liberated – even though I hadn’t ever felt constrained by the way things had been for me in past years. I’m feeling expansive, released – as though unfurling wings I hadn’t known were bound. It’s all been a wonder to me.
Letting go of the agenda, drifting along timelessly with reading and meandering through the days, I did sometimes feel drawn to do a bit of something. So, in the last month or so the garden did get pruned, the plants did get wiped, the laundries did get done and the masks did get vacuumed. But, each project got addressed only when I felt organically moved to it. My pace was slow and lackadaisical. Each doing wove in and out of the reading/lounging that was my baseline.
Lately, when opening or going to them, I certainly do note how much my shed, drawers, closet and cupboards could use my old winnowing/making space attention. Strangely, though, I feel no pressure or urge, as yet, to attend to any of it. Being me in this new season feels extraordinary. I trust that I’ll be drawn, at some points, to doing bits and pieces of winnowing/re-organizing. What’s clear is that, until such energy moves me, I won’t be doing any of the old routines.
It’s been intriguing to watch my shifting away from habits and rituals that used to be an important part of my life and of who I was to my self. I feel no sense of loss, no nostalgia, only delicious freedom, delightful expansiveness and curiosity about where this may be leading me.
There’s a quote from Tuli Kupferberg that comes to mind: “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” And another whose authorship and exact wording I can’t remember, so am paraphrasing: “One must be willing to let go of who one has been to make room for who one is becoming.” (This might be my own version of Joseph Campbell’s “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”).
I love when people I run into ask me what I’ve been “up to these days.” My usual answer has always been: “As little as possible!” And, at this moment, that “little” feels even littler.