Tag Archives: mountains

Let Yourself Be That

30 Dec

IMG_1982

I apparently make it a habit to rarely be at home, and this year was no exception. Some months, I was only in my own bed four nights out of the calendar 30 or 31 for which I pay precious, precious Brooklyn rent. I don’t regret living (actually, just leave it there: I don’t regret living, full stop) in the many different experiments I put myself through this year. I let myself live in the mountains of Utah and on the beach in Southern California, I tried roaming free in Alabama shortly after returning home from Assen. I was in crummy places like Washington, DC and Baltimore, and I took up temporary residence in my childhood hometown of Minneapolis. There was time in Amsterdam and Barcelona (actually, three trips to Barcelona) and France. And there was more, much more. So much more that I’d have to consult my trusty Moleskine calendar to track it.

Oh! What a natural segue. Moleskine calendar, you say? Well, that must be precious, and since its rear pocket carries the folded poems you must carry with you at all times, you never let it out of your sight, of course.

Of course.

Except for the day in October when I actually lived my worst, most persistent recurring nightmare. I’m talking about the dream that I’m sure I’ve written about here, the one where I endlessly pack my bags and never, ever go to the airport. Or if I’m at the airport, I somehow never get to my gate, whilst losing articles that tumble from my over-filled bags.

The dream v. life metaphors are obvious, but the point is, I never make a flight in my dreams. But in real life, I’ve never missed a flight. Until October 8th, 2015. (Dramatic chord!)

I was in Minneapolis, and I was at the peak of my self-loathing for a terrible habit that was only getting worse as I aged. I was becoming one of those people who begin to pack for a trip at the precise time when they should actually be going to the airport. This was not my dream self, mind you. This was the awake version of the girl who had just arisen from her slumber packing session and was at present dawdling through the newspaper, some coffee, room service breakfast, some lying around and moping… you get the drift.

So, I loathed this girl. But I took her rumpled self down the escalator of the fancy modernist hotel where I’d indulged in an extra night because my friends’ daughter had taken ill and I was already at this conference anyway, so Overburdened Charge Card picked it up. Like I said, I loathed this irresponsible, hapless person that had taken over while my restless soul wandered elsewhere, trying to find itself.

Ahem. My hotel was 15 minutes away from the airport, which helped but also hindered me, because I abused that fact. I glanced at the free airport shuttle, filled with hapless tourists lugging those gigantic bags that only tourists carry, and checked the time. No, I had to take my own transportation, direct to my own concourse, with no stops for Sally Six Bags along the way. I summoned an Uber, smug that I was such a fancy traveler girl that I had to get a car while a van was still being loaded with more girth-testing bags and people beside me. And then I opened my Delta app to check the time of my flight.

To my horror, I saw what I’ve never seen before in my life. It said, “Information is no longer available for this flight.” Which prompted me to wonder, why, wait, what time does it leave?

It left five minutes ago.

You thought it left an hour from now, because for the first time in your life, you let your Calendar app store the flight info, and that app pretended we were on East Coast time, and we are, in fact, in the Central time zone.

A very, very quiet little thunderstorm began in my brain as I smiled at the driver who opened a door in front of me. I was living my recurring nightmare. Well, let’s see what it’s meant to teach me, I told myself in an attempt to soothe the very recently Zoloft-deprived brain in my skull.

The details of what lengths the universe went to in order to demonstrate how far I’d fallen are actually, seriously, too painful to relate here. Let’s just say I cried in the airport, in a ridiculously overpriced Uber Black Car that took me away from the airport so I could kill six hours elsewhere, at a random diner that only took cash, at a shitty bar possessing the only ATM for miles and it was out of money, on the sidewalk in front of the bar, in the stunningly proximate office of my friend’s husband, and then in a Tumi luggage store at the airport, where I let a luggage therapist try to piece me back together again in the form of needlessly overpriced bags that are nowhere near the quality of those made by my own brother. (Sigh.)

I finally did arrive home, with lots of that “kindness of strangers” stuff cheering me along the way, but little did I know that somewhere in all of that Tumi shuffling, another very small thunderstorm was erupting, and it would be two months before it was over.

I’d left my Moleskine calendar, filled with more personal details than anyone should ever put on paper, in one of the many overwrought pockets in one of the many overpriced Tumi bags in a store 1500 miles away from my home.

I didn’t realize this until I’d turned my apartment upside-down and inside-out every night for two weeks. (Sheesh, I look back on this now with true horror at how low I was a the time. You should have seen the wreck my living room was then. Unrecognizable!)

Finally, dust settling on piles of unsettled detritus all around me, I told Unrequited about my lost calendar drama one night while we planned our trip to Spain. His clenched cowboy voice rumbled across cellular transmitters from Utah: “Well. Maybe it was something that you had to let go.”

Gulp.

It’s like he knew that one of the poems in that calendar was the Irish blessing I’d read to try to convince him to love me way back in 1972 (translation, 2011). Ughhhhh… okay, yeah, I should let it go. I get it!

But the universe had other ideas. The night before our flight to Barcelona, I received a phone call from Ohio. Someone, some very lovely one, had found my calendar in a bag they’d bought in the Minneapolis airport! And in the most charming phone call I’ve ever experienced, that someone’s husband cheerily told me how yes, he’d found the poems in the back pocket when he was looking for any means of identification in the calendar. This was the one time I hadn’t written my contact information in the front of a Moleskine notebook and promised a reward of fresh-baked cookies to anyone who found it. The ONE time. Fortunately, he’d found a receipt from my tailor (whuh huh huh, I use a tailor).

Anyway. Profound gratitude pulsed my heart and filled my soul. He was going to mail the calendar back to me, and it would be waiting when I came home from Europe. I promised to send him his rightful reward of freshly baked chocolate sea-salt cookies.

“I’m not one to refuse freshly baked anything,” he said.

Except, when I came home from more Unrequited adventures with Unrequited, the calendar wasn’t there. It was not there in my mailbox, nor there on my doorstep, nor in the hands of any of my kind neighbors. It was clearly in the hands of nefarious agents of the internet-posting world where they were surely going to scan the trembly drivel on my calendar pages and share them with readers of “Found” magazine or whatever it was called. I was going to be a laughingstock. A meme. An animated .gif.

More letting go. Letttttting go. Apparently I was never meant to have this calendar again. I get it. I get it!

But do I get it? Do I have any idea why I let this completely implausible fantasy persist? No, because if I did, I would let it be the beautiful idea that it actually is—and that is, if I let go of trying to control every step that anyone makes toward my heart, someone will actually walk right up to it and embrace me (see previously mentioned Lao Tzu mantra).

Here’s what it’s all about. You see, there’s a meditation that I rarely let myself indulge in doing. It’s effect is blissfully powerful, and it leaves me feeling exactly as I did when I was a giddy little girl who still thought she could do anything in the world, because her golden, pure heart loved everyone, so why wouldn’t that love be reflected back toward her?

The meditation is called “Follow a Desire into Fulfillment.” And people, it’s a magic spell. At the end of its very short ten minutes, when you’re so elated you think you might float away, the very lovely Sally Kempton says, in the kindest, most sincere imperative ever: “Let yourself be that.”

Except she says it with all the right pauses between the words. “Let yourself (pause) be (longer pause, just a slight bit of extra emphasis ahead) that.”

If we could all let the controlled steps of the calendar go, let the missteps of lost love go, and be unafraid to follow the true desire of our hearts (ironically, that’s what the Irish Blessing that I carry is all about), we could let ourselves be that. And I reckon we’d be pretty elated.

By the way, the calendar came to me two months after I lost it, and one month after it was returned-to-sender to the kind people in Ohio. I sent them their well-deserved chocolate sea-salt cookies and I hope those confections made their Christmas as lovely as their kindness made mine. 

 

May the One You Long for Long for You

19 Jan

paperThere are three poems I carry with me, sometimes as a little bundle of folded pages worn at the seams, sometimes just one important piece at a time. I am a girl of many handbags and totes, and so each day I must reassemble which items travel with me, and even when I keep my load light, I pack at least one poem. I can always feel the carefully selected verbal talisman there, leaning against my hip through canvas or jostling around with too many glasses cases in pockets of suede.

It used to be just one poem I always carried, and so I memorized it. It’s a very long poem, too. But I know it. Still the pages are smooth as river stones now, so I carry it like some might wear a tattoo. I know it, but I need it outside myself, too.

Another joined the ranks last summer when I was riding the subway very, very late one night and sharing thoughts with a stranger about a poem displayed in one of those “Poetry in Motion” public service ads. I turned to him as I dangled from a handrail and said before he could take off his beat-laden headphones, “Do you know anything about orchids?” When headphones rested on hoodie and he asked me to repeat myself, he nodded no. But we had a very lovely talk about what could be known about orchids and what we needed to learn. We agreed to seek out more on the subject matter when we got home. “Google it!” he said, as I disembarked. I hope he googled it, too.

In between the ancient relic of a poem that I memorized and the relatively new one that came from beneath the streets is the most important poem ever. It is an Irish Blessing that one of my dearest yoga teachers read aloud in class four years ago. I almost didn’t make it to that class, I was tired and whiny, but like the most intrepid of yogis, I made the effort to drive to the farthest studio that was in my orbit in Utah. It turned out I was the only one who would show up that night, and it was fortunate, because I needed to unburden my heart, give voice to a big truth I’d reduced to a little trembling trifle.

My teacher and I, we were (and are) both the sort who find meaning in incidentals, coincidences, serendipity, happenstance and several other words for magic. We talked while we waited for no one else to eventually arrive, and then when she opened her bookmarked page and began to read the text she’d selected for that evening’s class, she actually began to cry, instantly. I didn’t panic, as it was not abnormal for me to witness. I tend to be in a lot of amazingly emotional exchanges with relative strangers. I’m like the Hallmark card commercial guru. Have thirty seconds to start weeping about your neglectful father? Here, have a Kleenex-brand tissue.

The poem, the Irish Blessing, is by this guy John O’Donohue (legit Irish name, check). I purposely have never looked in to who he is or what era he lives in, but I’m fairly certain he’s probably a contemporary living Irish Blessing writer, because his subject matter is a superior blend of eastern and western philosophy.

“Blessed be the longing that brought you here,” the first line says to the weary yogi who traveled from at least 15 miles north. Alright, so that made me cry, too. And the rest of it was so amazing that I copied down her yoga-abbreviated version of the text by hand on a piece of paper before I left the yoga studio that night. It was evidently so mystical an experience that I didn’t even try to google it then and there… how odd…

Anyway, the next day, I called Unrequited and was kinda like super demanding and said we had to have dinner before I left town on a two-week trip the next day. He agreed to meet me after work, and I folded up my pocket poem and carried it with me to the restaurant. Then, after the appropriate amount of small-talk, I tucked the folded paper under the edge of my plate and declared that I had something to say.

I was afraid to say it, of course, so I read the poem first:

Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.

May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

May the forms of your belonging–in love, creativity, and friendship–
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

May the one you long for long for you.

May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.

May your heart never be haunted by ghost structures of old damage.

May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.

***

That’s pretty good, right? I finished reading, folded paper, and put it back under the edge of my plate. Then I told Unrequited that I had cleared a huge place in my heart for him, and it was a permanent place. And now that place also included his two sons. “I hold you all in my heart, I always have since I have known you, and I always will. I felt this way since the moment we met, and it’s always been there, and it will always be there, so nothing will change.”

His jaw was actually dropped when I was silent. His eyes were wide and his gaze was upward at nothing. Then he started to smile in slow-motion (just like in a Hallmark movie!), and he said, “That is the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me. Thank you.”

Of course nothing came of it then, otherwise he wouldn’t be called Unrequited, right? But for all you devoted Bunky fans out there, waiting for the best happy-romance-movie-ending ever, Unrequited and I spoke yesterday and he said he’s coming to visit me in New York.

I can hear at least one of you grumbling (WriterHero), but dude, let a girl have some poetry now and then. I’ll see Unrequited in two weeks anyway, when I get my hair done in Utah. But then he’s coming here. For me. FOR ME. And the quaint village of New York City.

So Tell Me How Long

20 May

ahoyOn more mornings than I care to admit, I awake with the vague recollection that someone was in love with me while I slept. Sometimes there’s only a slight pause, and I can picture the face of the friend or stranger who has suddenly decided that he cannot live without me. But on other occasions, such as today, I have to mosey around a bit in my recently dismissed reveries and try to identify the source of affection.

This morning’s dream was of Unrequited. And it’s probably appropriate that he disappeared from the scene right before I awoke. He is a coyote, after all, scrambling up the hillside, leaving only a tiny avalanche of pebbles and snapped twigs in the wake of paws swift and precise in their escape.

Oh, Unrequited. You’ve rehearsed this part so often, it becomes more believable every time my subconscious pulls back the curtain and trots out the familiar scene. You are finally ready to be close with me, and your entire demeanor softens around the contentment you held out of reach for so long. I am your inevitable love, and you are so happy to be home, safe. Even better, you are ready to take me into your arms and actually just be still, hold still, stay with me. A sense of calm pervades the dream, and I feel settled for the first time in my life.

This dream is on repeat-one in my mind, though I refuse to call it “recurring” because reality’s circumstances have always evolved somewhat in between fictional depictions and each is a little more convincing than the last. But unlike my Cowboy premonition or my startling ability to predict the sudden arrival of love from the Unaloof Percussionist, my Unrequited fantasy has never come true. (Thus, of course, the moniker Unrequited.)

Sometimes I do have the mystical sense that this imagining will finally become tangible. Late last summer, when I was in Salt Lake City for a week to pack my things and vacate the premises, I met Unrequited’s doppelganger on a moonlit night. I’d just finished a long and luxurious dinner with a friend and wandered up a hill to where I’d parked the impressively large and charmingly dated Toyota Landcruiser that same friend generously makes available to me when I visit Utah. Then three things happened at once.

You see, this was the first time I’d made use of this vehicle, and its storied past was transforming my life rapidly. I never drive large vehicles, and the first time I piloted this vessel, I was actually giggling maniacally. It is so liberating to move through space with too much metal around you. Especially when the metal is nicknamed “Stinky” (which he distinctly is not, and yes, it is a he, not a she, as is more common for vehicles and boats). And more especially when Stinky is home to an advanced cultural tradition. Whenever anyone borrows him, they add an audiocassette to his treasure trove of past-tense musical memories. In short, Stinky makes you feel powerful and nostalgic all at the same time, making him quite possibly the best boyfriend ever.

Anyway, I climbed up the hill, heaved myself elegantly into the driver’s seat using Stinky’s chivalrous running board step and courteous doorframe handle, and slid across the leather seat in my summer dress. I looked up and saw the full moon making poetic declarations through the trees and above the postcard-perfect shadows of mountains beyond. Damn you, Utah, I thought, and turned the key.

Earlier that day I finally got off my NPR high horse and gave in to Stinky’s DJ experience. I pressed “Tape” on the stereo and once again began giggling maniacally (Stinky really makes you behave like you are in the early phases of love). This time the laughter was triggered by the sudden arrival of the voice of Morrissey, moaning some lyrics to what I could only assume was music from The Smiths. I have always hated The Smiths, much to my Writer Hero friend’s chagrin, and I figured this was the universe telling me to a.) drive a large car and feel some crazy-ass power, and b.) own the fact that The Smiths were made for me.

Okay, so, I got in, saw the moon, turned the key, and the tape continued playing the strange cacophonous introduction to a song I’d never heard before. I paused, transfixed, until Morrissey’s voice arrived with some advice as to where things were going. Then he broke my heart and reconstructed my soul in a matter of seconds.

“Last night I dreamt that somebody loved me,” he intoned, pointing at me alone there on a dark hill. Then he sang exactly the scenario I was enduring at that moment and continue to endure today: “No hope, no harm, just another false alarm / Last night I felt real arms around me / No hope, no harm, just another false alarm / So tell me how long, before the last one / And tell me how long before the right one / This story is old, I know, but it goes on.”

mantraNeedless to say, the song became my mantra, and I eventually regained the ability to use an audiocassette player, figuring out how to rewind just to the beginning of the track, so I could hear the same song over and over and over again for the entire eight days I was in Utah last August. This song held me up, comforted me. I was raw at that time, my mother was in the hospital in Texas, and I was drastically changing my life in a mode of escape and return to some version of home.

Then, eight months later, Stinky and I were reunited when I visited the Unaloof Percussionist. That same audiocassette was in the tape player, still cued up to my heartbreak. Only it felt completely different with Unaloof next to me.

Now, fast-forward one more month, and guess what, I’ll be returning to Salt Lake City, borrowing Stinky, and pressing play on that audiocassette. And guess what? I’ll be with Unaloof, but he has expressed his urgent need to never love me or be serious about me, making himself into another form of Unrequited.

And now we come to the denouement of my dream sequence. I will press play, sing along with my heartbreak, and go to dinner with Unrequited. And he finally, finally will hold my hand across the table, and say, “You like the arugula salad here, right? And we always get the ricotta dumplings.” And I will gaze into his eyes and find a new contentment in our old rituals as they finally, actually mean something.

It’s not impossible. All my other dreams have come true. And Stinky clearly is a mystical creature who brings you the answers and grants you the power to live with them, even when they don’t turn out the way you planned.

Elevation Training

4 Apr

train“You look so carefree, I almost didn’t recognize you.”

I opened the car door and climbed up awkwardly onto the too-high truck passenger seat. Salt Lake Rambling Adventure Writer friend was picking me up for lunch one day last August. I was home for a week to pack up all of my things and then get back to Texas just as fast I could.

Carefree. For one month I had been staying in a tiny carriage house behind a historic home in Fort Worth, shuttling myself between hospitals, yoga studios, and fancy grocery stores. My mother was very, very sick. She is very, very sick. But I was and am happier than I’ve ever been, because I was and am living with a purpose. My aim is to stay strong and well for my mother, to be her advocate and somewhat of a curmudgeonly chauffeur and grocery-getter.

Despite the exhaustion that now can crowd the features of my face so it looks like I’m squinting my way back to sleep, Adventure Writer was damn right. I felt progressively more carefree with each rotation of the four wheels on my car as I drove myself out of the high-mountain desert and placed myself on the southern plains almost ten months ago. And now, now friends, I am going to test the strength of that carefree, and return to Salt Lake City for my first visit since our breakup.

I am ready to see the city that challenged me and made me better while simultaneously suffocating me and editing out all my best New Yorker bits. Or so I always said.

 

At our sunny, summer lunch that day, Adventure Writer elaborated on his theory of my advanced levity. “Utah was your most conflicted relationship,” he began, outlining some of the finer points of how I never intended to be there, expended a great deal of energy regretting that I lived there, and yet as a result of some bizarre need to prove everyone wrong, hoped to flourish there and gamely trying to reinvent myself for social approval in that natural wonderland of oppressive misogynistic culture.

As one might guess, things didn’t work out too well for me in the dating world of SLC. But I did manage to foster profoundly important friendships that continue to support me right up to this very minute.

Then came the deus ex machina. My slice of pepperoni pizza was yanked from my hands by a force of nature beyond my control when Adventure Writer stated the most important truth ever: “The rejection you felt was actually coming from yourself.”

Blame the city all you want, but that carefree wasn’t going to show up until you found a reason to love yourself. And that I most certainly did, when I decided to once again move for love, taking myself to Texas for my mother. So that’s done. Now I am going back to that mountain town to claim the love that waited for me all along. It’s a good thing he was patient.

Stone Walls

7 Dec

“Three days in, what’s your favorite thing about Spain?” came the gentle prompting from Chicago. Hands lifted the strands of hair from my shoulders and smoothed back the lengths of striped blonde. My ghostly tourist form took shape under the remote gaze of an interested party.

Three days in, it was the dessert I had my first night. “Crisp and smooth at the same time. A paradox of sweetness,” I over-elaborated. Always answering too much when only a little is requested.

But give me until the fourth day and I’ll tell you simply, “The mountains outside of Bilbao.” I didn’t see them the dark evening I arrived, but felt the contours of rough valleys as the the train car jerked along endlessly curving tracks.

Knowing the ride back in daylight would be beautiful, because only the most interesting terrain could prompt so much shakiness, I still underestimated the degree to which my aesthetic senses would be replenished by this journey. I’ll pack up these images and carry them back to the scrubby plains of Texas. Survive another little while and listen for more inquiries from one thousand miles away.

High-Altitude Training

27 Sep

My first steps in Utah fell on the point of a mountain. It was one of the littlest mountains at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, but the perch was high enough that it looked down upon a cliff where paragliders from all the around the world flocked to hurl themselves off rock into thin air. Somehow New York me and London him thought we’d want to cohabitate in an environment completely opposite to the ones we’d known thus far in our lives.

Oops.

It snowed the first millisecond we arrived, and every single millisecond thereafter, and I spent the duration of the winter pressed up against the second-story window of my home office, watching for signs of frozen precipitation. Weather reports for Salt Lake City did not apply up there at 7,200 feet, so I found a website linked to an amateur weather station around the corner from where I was trapped in oblivion, 45 minutes away from the nearest cup of chain-store coffee.

Our driveway was a vertical cliff face, an icy amenity which probably guaranteed the property’s rental status for the duration of its existence on this planet. Despite these living circumstances, we did not procure cars with four-wheel drive, opting instead for matching VW Golf TDIs, his in black, mine in indigo.

Neither of us could ever, ever hope to park in the garage unless the driveway was completely bone dry, cleared of every last snowflake. So, I being the champion worrier and professional procrastinator that I am, took hours away from my editing job and transformed myself into a hardened pioneer woman. Unafraid to slide down the driveway in shoes meant for city sidewalks, I shoveled and shoveled in my strange new habitat. I could feel the stay-at-home moms staring at me through slatted window blinds, wondering at my ineptitude. Sometimes I looked up and smiled, hoping I looked more like a happy movie montage than some sort of misplaced, rage-filled Brooklyn DeNiro in a witness protection comedy.

Weekends were more relaxed. With no returning workaday man to worry about, I was able to indulge in a pioneer activity in which I actually held some competence. Baking. Girl can bake, and has done booked ever since she was seven years old.

So when all my batches of brownies and cookies refused to rise above a syrupy scrum of molasses-like disaster, I stood in the perfect white of my kitchen tucked into a white hill, and cried clear tears. Why. Had I lost this skill.

Dramatic irony tells the wise reader that altitude was the issue, but it wasn’t until my fifth batch of failed brownies that I realized that at the conclusion of every recipe were “high-altitude directions” I’d been ignoring my entire life. Ahhh. Ahhh. A new skill to apply! Research to embrace. Proportions and measurements, reduce sugars and leavening this much, increase liquid this much. Soon a slightly warped version of baked goods was coming out of my oven, and I was surviving in a strange new land.

Over the course of eight years, I got used to certain disappointments in Utah baking. My brownies never did quite set right, no matter what I did. Cookies always laid as flat as the dead cowboy centered in a painting that still adorns my walls. Cupcakes… well, I hated them, but Unrequited said they were just fine. Friends always ate the heaps of baked goods I dropped at their front door. I bake only to go through the comforting motions. Then I take a bite and give it away. Trust me, I’m not some disciplined dieter from the 1950s. Sugar just arm wrestles me into total collapse, so I tend to avoid it.

Cue new home at just about sea level in Fort Worth. Months go by while my baking implements rest in their new pantry, waiting for the familiar caress of their sugar-fearing mistress. Autumn tries to impress me with some darker mornings that keep me pinned in bed longer, and temperatures sinking to a crazy 91 degrees in the daytime. And it’s time to bake.

No adjustments to recipes necessary, I was vaguely curious about the results of my first brownie endeavor on the prairie. I doubted it could be very different. Sure that my recollection of childhood baking endeavors must have exaggerated the cakieness of brownies and cookies past. I needn’t expect to experience the exhilaration of good texture again. Temper your feelings, dear Bunky. Temper, temper.

Timer goes off. Brownies come out of the oven a full 15 minutes earlier than in Salt Lake, adhering to recipe directions for the first time in nearly a decade. Cool, cool, let the damn things cool. Slice, and good gawd, they are even crumbling differently! They are crumbling ferchrissakes.

One bite, and I knew. Everything in life was now completely different. Order had been restored. Joy returned. I am a baker again! I am soft and fluffy and I am the cookie of contentment. Thank you, dear Texas. Now please, who will take all these brownies off my hands?

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