April Is the Cruelest Month

I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And after this past winter, I can tell you, it’s raining shoes. Reacting as I have been programmed to on that day in 1957 when my father did not come home, I continue playing my role in a never-ending loop.

A grey glaze coats this day in nearly-mid April, with tree buds still embryonic, the forsythia seemingly stillborn–all of spring in a severe case of arrested development. Winter held on so mercilessly, in so many ways.

Elements of a perfect storm for classic Nordic depression had been pounding since the holidays on the increasingly frail infrastructure of the man I share my life with. Long dormant, long ignored genes reached from psychic depths with a strength his once youthful body (and mind) could counter. But somehow the playing field had changed–the sands of chemical balance had shifted under him and this stoic, sensitive, loving man finally admitted that he now needed help. (And his equally stoic, sensitive, and loving partner had to admit that she was not enough).

A Kafkaesque pursuit of treatment and miscellaneous cause and effect ensued. I will spare the details partly because they are as convoluted as the bureaucratic red tape encountered and largely because I don’t want to relive it.

In any case, we survived. I do mean we. And I so believe in happy endings. However…

He is never late. He can be counted on to change the oil in my car, to prune tall branches, to kiss my forehead every morning when he wakes hours before I do, and most especially, to share happily and completely our evenings together, with no need for any more than my company. (Although there is always a stack of books he will find himself buried in before retiring).

I expected to hear the back door close behind him at 4:30, at the end of his long, physically hard work week as a carpenter. The prospect of a simple dinner of salad and a fresh loaf of ciabatta would be all that was required to celebrate TGIF…no Happy Hour, just home and happy.

Two hours later, I had relived every loss in my life, had gone fetal on the sofa with a phone in my hand, ear cocked to the street and the police car that would drive up with terrible, life-altering news.

At 6:35, I heard the door close. Relief and anger flooded me, tandem emotions that almost always cohabitate. He lay down and told me he was missing his sister, who had died in a tragic car accident six years ago to the day. (Those damn shoes…they’re out there, hanging over all of us).

But he was okay. And after a few minutes, or more, so was I.

So am I.

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My Tandem Life

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Sometimes you just have to root around for the baggage ticket and reclaim the person you once were.

I was a city person: ate, breathed, walked, talked, worked, slept, fought for, and loved (unconditionally) New York City. We’d been a team for thirty years.

I let go of that life over a decade ago, and slowly became who I am now. No longer plugged into street energy, or caring about what’s happening, what’s opening, what’s hot and what’s not, I am now otherwise engaged. A backyard drama involving roaming cats I’ve befriended, flocking birds who rely on my heavy hand with the seed, and chitchat over the hedge or snow shovel with my neighbors both stimulates and satisfies, while the quiet calm of winter sky and the lapping of river waves before they are stilled into ice lull me into a cocoon of semi-hibernation.

More than all that, I am now a we. I share my home, my space, my time, my energy, my heart with a tall man who makes me laugh. Whose character and reliability I can stake my life on.

Still.

Two snowstorms in four days have me a bit tense and claustrophobic. Only, on closer look, it’s not just the weather. It’s a need to breathe deeply, and not in tandem with this tall man, but alone. That need requires an environment I can dive into, obliterating my current life above the surface. Sometimes it is a visit to my past.

I plan a day in the city, and visit a yoga class I hadn’t been to in half a decade. The teacher is one who had led me through breath and asanas, navigating the days following the 9/11 attacks. We exchange smiles, and the class begins. I remember how intense my practice had been back then. The heat of the room and the familiar flows both caress my muscle memory and taunt me as I struggle to keep up. I do what I can, and realize that my ego is not putting the demands on me that it once did. I have changed. And I am still that person.

The duality is not confusing–it comforts. I sit on the train, heading home, bone-tired yet exhilarated. I want nothing more now but to enter my kitchen, stomp the snow off my boots, and tell the tall man I share my life with about my day.

photo by sharon watts

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Out of the Loop

A discarded NY Post beckons me from the train seat. The touch of a tabloid—guaranteed to pass a half hour of the commute as I milk the tacky content for nuggets to suck on en route to Grand Central—is too tempting to avoid.

I’m engulfed in a sudden time warp (is it really 2013?). Paul Anka, Jay (not Jack) Black, and Jackie Mason are playing Westbury (they’re not already dead?) and Cindy Adams still dishes out her embalmed brand of gossip.

I look at the front page—one dollar! Last I remembered was a quarter, and the rag was never even worth that. Still, the touch of an actual newspaper sends thrills through deprived fingertips.

As I’ve suspected for years, I have become officially “out of the loop.”
No longer knowing, or caring to know, the likes or doings of most of the headline-grabbers of today, I can’t even pretend. Why does everyone feel the need to tweet, to announce, to meme all over the map? Must we fill every nano-nook of quiet space in our souls that really should be prime real estate, a gated community against cultural riffraff?

Curmudgeonly thoughts are settling into my bones like calcium deposits, and I am not quite sure how that feels. I certainly don’t want to ossify, nor do I want to engage fully with this twit-headed world. Now even the NY Post is reminding me of this fact. The front page announces that Twitter is offering an IPO.

I move forward (at least I like to think) in tandem with—but not one of—the masses hunkered over their devices, which are welded to their appendages evoking some freak evolutionary adaptation. I assume that, as a species, we all desire more or less the same thing; to travel a path that leads full-circle, to a death with dignity, exiting a life that held meaning. Yet I witness a morphing at warp speed, with humans racing through a world I can no longer identify with.

Friends, chiding gently at my reluctance to join in lockstep, probably wonder where I veered off the road. Whatever wave was cresting on the cultural Zeitgeist, I used to shoot its curl. Or was I just tipsy on the cocktail of youth with its sidecar of ambition? Life somehow buffered and shaped me into another version of my earlier self, a truer one if only because this is where I am now. And I accept that.

“I love my iPhone!” This, from one of my closest, smartest, most sensitive friends—the one least likely to succumb if for no other reason but that she is an Edwardian-era Anglophile, with books lined ceiling-to-floor in her Brooklyn railroad apartment. I am left with dashed hopes for a like-minded entourage as we enter our sixties.

Like Dana Andrews in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” I have pod people all around me.
“You don’t have a Kindle?” No. My eyes balk at reading a screen for anything more than utilitarian purposes. They need the tactile reassurance of a printed page, the soft rag of paper cushioning serif typeface.

GPS? NFW. And so on. Am I on my way to becoming Maxine, that cranky cartoon character? No. I am simply choosing my path. Following my dream. Doing it my way. Preferring to watch a spider spin its web in real-time than be caught in the ever soul-shrinking world wide web.

If anyone cares to meet up in the tar pit, just RSVP. I’ll be sending out invitations via snail mail. And I won’t be tweeting about it, either.

What happens in the tar pit stays in the tar pit.

*****

Also published on Elephant Journal

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Clouds, Tadpoles, Rocks

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The clouds…oh my. All July they billowed and ballooned, mounds of meringue on steroids, dolloped atop the layer of dense woods of hemlock and cherry and maple that abutt the farm fields surrounding Neil’s barn.

Time was suspended–held in aspic, or hostage, or in some cosmic equation that has not yet been proven by scientists, but everyone who has experienced it knows exists. Watches were left on the dresser top, and farm tans formed instead around T-shirt necklines and tank tops. This was my second summer here, and there was work to be done.

A little garden pond needed relining, and so (between deluges of hard summer rain) we hooked up the pump to drain it. When it got down to a thin layer of silt and mud, dozens of tadpoles made their presence known, reminding us of how we all began. Vigilant to spot a telltale bubble of life–another to save!–we scooped them up and into a plastic tub, drove down the road in the pickup truck, and released them into a pond made by nature where they could thrive as intended, in froggy splendor.

The rocks…oh my. They lined the pond’s edge and had to be moved in order to take out the old plastic liner. Dozens of rocks, relocated off to the side, or up to the deck. Neil had originally hauled them from down the road. Sandstone, mostly flat, and free for the taking. Some were to be wire-brushed for the future hearth, and the rest were to weigh down the new pond liner and be artfully arranged around the edges, and to support and showcase a modest waterfall.

I worked until I got too hot and tired. Then we filled the pond with clear water and I floated with one lone frog who either refused to relocate or was our first tenant. I looked up to the sky and my eyes rested on the clouds. Atomic, apocalyptic, pillows for witnessing the end of the world. Then I saw a face in the clouds, and an elephant, and I smiled.

Maybe tomorrow would come; maybe not.

It was all okay.

*****

words & photo copyright Sharon Watts 2013

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Revving Up to Sixty

Twenty years ago I could’ve been one of those people with a T-shirt that said “Oops! I forgot to have a baby!”  (Now it would read “I forgot to have grandkids.”)

I am sitting in my favorite writing spot–on my deck in a butterfly chair with a composition notebook on my lap, thinking about what is looming. As the big day approaches, I am not sure why I am pondering it so. It’s only a number, after all. The big Six-(uh)-Oh.

I have no plans for that day, which sometimes is the best plan of all. I’ve already gone back to my hometown and attended a surprise party for a friend I’ve known since the first grade, and I just sent email wishes to another who wrote back to say she and her husband are off to Yellowstone to celebrate hers. That’s the thing–when you still have a multitude of friends the exact age as you, there is no avoidance of being aware. I’ve had parties given for me and by me over the years, but there is something really nice about claiming your day for one of quiet reflection and solitude. Maybe a hike at Poet’s Walk, where I’ve never been. Or an afternoon in my art studio with the windows open, working on a new assemblage, losing track of time entirely.

So how do I feel about turning sixty? Granting it the power of symbolism that I suppose it deserves, I’ll consider the question. My fifties were full of highs and lows: following the compass swings of my heart was not for the fearful. Not until my mind played catch-up did fear (make that “panic”) enter the equation. During that decade words and art trickled out of me in rivulets, accumulating into pools and the occasional geyser, while my income slowed to a drip. I paid attention to what I wanted (and needed) to do, and now it is time to get more practical. I need to face the fact that my “Youth Generation” is now geriatric.

One thing I’ve been working on this month is being more mindful about my vegetarian diet. I’ve been entertaining the idea of a spring de-tox, largely because I am in love with my juicer, and an apple-beet-ginger concoction is like Fred and Ginger dancing cheek to cheek, with me in tow. I also have been known to embark on one of those cleansing plans only to cry uncle six hours into the first day with no coffee in me. This time, I wanted to see if I could go vegan, if not do the entire three-day cleanse.

I have not had coffee since Monday morning—it is now Thursday night. (This is a record, folks!) When I ran out of milk, I vowed I would switch to green tea (with caffeine) and Tylenol for those killer headaches with my name on them. What made it easier too was that I have a new addiction–chia seeds. Or rather, chia seed pudding. All of a sudden I was reading everywhere about this amazing food from Mexico: a mere tablespoon would send an Aztec into battle with energy to do whatever Aztecs did in battle. All you do is combine with coconut or almond milk, agave, and vanilla, then shake, and an hour later–nirvana! Tiramisu, I don’t miss you! Cappuccino, you’re a no-no! (at least for now).

Also new to my pantry are flax seeds, agave, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. I’ve always liked almond and soy milk, everywhere but in my coffee. Now that coffee is off the menu, it’s a moot point. (Sorry, cows, for the bad pun).

A three-day cleanse might not seem so drastic now that I have done the previously unthinkable–gone without dairy (other than a few runs down the shredder with a chunk of parmesan). Having loosely delineated rules that prevented me from seeing this exercise in black and white–succeed grandly or fail miserably, yet again–might be the ticket to embracing my sixties and beyond. Who knows, I may just put the pedal to the medal and complete that juice fast on the big day.

I just don’t want to wake up that morning and say “Oops! I forget to get healthy!”

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Choosing White

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I tend to see things in black and white. Perfectionists do that. Yesterday was May 1, May Day, the ideal day for making new promises to myself. I had already begun a 30-day Yoga Journey on April 25,  a perfect shoe-horned fit that would lead me right up to the doorstep of my 60th birthday.  One thing I was doing every morning in this program was the Ganesh mantra. I had learned it several years ago, and recall how I stumbled over the strange syllables, garbling them so badly that I was sure bad karma would result. Funny, but this time I picked it up with no problem at all. Muscle memory (the tongue, not the heart, is the strongest muscle in the body–did you know?) might have kicked in, but I am leaning on something more spiritual.

Somehow I skipped yesterday. The day was so beautiful, calling me outdoors, enveloping me in Spring as it should be, not as it has been so far this year. The mantra was on my desktop computer. Chanting in tandem to a mp3 file was not appealing, not when there was gardening to do, and Vitamin D to soak up. I thought I’d squeeze it in later in the day. That didn’t happen.

Instead, I sipped some sparkling white wine and called my May 1st birthday girlfriends while listening to the music of my little waterfall that gurgled over the rocks I had rearranged. Before leaving to tend to his barn, Neil had warned me not to mess around with them, knowing I typically clambered over the hillside in my ballet flats. Nevertheless, I cartwheeled the unwieldy boulders into place successfully, without crushing a toe.

And decided that what I needed was my own Ganesh beads to count. The mantra is to be repeated 108 times, and I can only count on my hands so far. This morning, I went into my art studio and found white beads and wire thread. Forgiving myself the gap, I am resuming my practice as if it is for the first time.

Because every time is the first time.

ganesh beads & wire

In the moment, in my backyard:

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obstacles or rewards?

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beauty in black & white

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ready to be filled

More backyard meditations captured in Back To My Senses.

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Back To My Senses

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I remember when…

I remember zen…

While the original intent of this exercise of “an hour at a time” didn’t have the staying power I had hoped for, I don’t consider that a failure.

It looked good on paper. And I’m a paper-kind-of-gal. A list crosser-offer, an itemizer-organizer, a collector of ideas, a can-do riveter of dreams. A pursuer of goals.

Along the way I hear how counterproductive all this is. From sources I have great respect for, even awe. And I get it, truly. Yet…

Funny, how many blogs are out there with the word “zen” in them, or with zen as a premise. While the earnest truths imparted reach out to fellow travelers as guide posts to redirect or encourage, if I read them all I’d have to go into some kind of deep zen-cleanse.

Instead, I read the few I’ve become attached to. It might not be always for the message, though that usually resonates. What I find I seek connection with is the human spirit behind the message. The person who is struggling, who stumbles and soars, and stumbles again. The person who is seeking equilibrium each and every day. The human face behind the zen mask. The person who falls down seven times and gets up eight. Otherwise, I’m afraid it’s just rhetoric.

I am reacquainting myself with one such person. Me. I thought I had evolved, having descended into a personal sink hole and somehow emerging on a higher plane with clearer vision, or at least better binoculars. I recently found evidence of that struggle on the back shelf of a closet, in the form of a collection of writings. Short essays. A few stabs at poetry. I reread it all, almost as if it were for the first time, remembering who I was and where I had been.

The first decade of the new millennium was a time of my life for goals to perish in their pointlessness, as I sought simply to put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t have a goal, but I experienced life in real time, in-the-moment, almost as if I had no other choice. And I wrote about it. Why? Because I needed to. In doing so, I not only survived, but part of me thrived.

The result is Back To My Senses.

The soon-to-be-released book is a goal nearly achieved, that never set out as a goal on paper. Funny how things turn out.

Now, back to the beginning.

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