Sunday, September 25, 2022

Maybe someone cared about this place once

took the time to set the plants in motion. Orange daylilies in the spring. The black-eyed Susans in summer. Purple aster and rosy pink sedum in fall. It took me several years to figure the patterns out, the first year spent surveying the mess, the plants toppling over each other, the choking weeds, and everywhere, shoots of #%$^% bamboo. 

That was the first thing to go. That, and the prison door. 

Some days I seriously thought about tearing everything out, scouring it down to the hard, packed dirt. But then I would've missed the design hiding under all of that mess. How each season's flowers give way to the next. There's a metaphor hiding here too and if I thought I could explain it to you, I would, but for now, let's pretend I'm talking about my backyard, 

and how I learned what needed to be shed and what might be lovely to keep. 

1. It helps to know what you are dealing with. IE, what these plants are. This seems like a no brainer, but I can't tell you how long I spent trying to identify this stuff. You can google, and there are plant identifying apps and books, of course, but I found it most helpful to ask a more knowledgeable gardening friend. Think: therapist, but with flowers.

2. Don't do anything you may regret (except for what you are absolutely sure about--the prison door; the noxious bamboo). It really is okay to take your time while you get your bearings. 

3. But at some point, you will be ready to act, and when you are, do it. Dig out a plant and plop it somewhere else. Rip something else out all together and toss it in the compost. 

4. Or don't. Not everything is worth saving.

5. This is your garden now, after all. Acknowledge what was gifted to you and then draw up your own design. Plant your seeds. Find joy in what grows. 

6. As for the rest—take a breath. It’s okay. I promise—let it go. 



 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

I Yoga-ed with a Goat (and I liked it)

Something interesting that I noticed yesterday when I was doing goat yoga in the park outside the library is that when a baby goat jumps on your back, and their little hooves nudge and shuffle over your shoulder blades, and their tail switches against your neck, and their furry body bonks the back of your head, you can't help but be in the moment. Being

in the Moment is something I've been working on for years and with varying degrees of success. Day-to-day moments like walking the dog and doing the dishes and checking in books at the library are moments I can manage. These are quiet moments where I can reasonably expect what is going to happen next. 

Also, it helps to be on vacation, dog paddling around in the cool water of Woods Hole, Massachusetts. And now I can add: Sit in a Park and Let Baby Goats Jump on Your Back to my list. But what I really want is to stay present in moments without the cool ocean water and without baby goats. 


Moments that are uncomfortable. Stressful. Scary. These are the moments when I slip into what I've learned is a trauma response. You may have heard of this as "Fight, Flight, or Freeze." It's our body's way of protecting us when we perceive danger. Of course when you really ARE in danger, these responses good. They are automatic, self-protective, and essential for survival. 

The trouble is, later, when you are no longer in danger, your body may still be hard-wired for these responses, perceiving threat where there is none. An example is a soldier home after battle who cowers at the sound of fireworks or a car backfiring. But trauma response also occurs in survivors of childhood abuse, victims of natural disaster, or any number of life-altering events.  

In my case I may run away or I may lash out at someone, but typically, I dissociate. In other words, I disappear. Disappearing seems like the most innocuous of the three responses, and I even used to joke about it, how when things get too rough I can float right out of my own head, and what a fun trick that is. Except, 

it isn't fun. Because the thing about disappearing is that when you do it, you miss things. Important things. Like bits and pieces of holidays and birthday parties. Your child's graduation. Your own wedding. And when you "come back," which you inevitably will, you are jittery, wrung out, sad and ashamed.

There is the added element of powerlessness. Something happens to trigger you, and you respond, as if a button has been pushed. I don't know who I am speaking to here, in this moment, or who might need to hear this, but I have recently learned that there is a space between the trigger and your response.  

And you can sit in that space and ground yourself. With some practice, you may be able to take a breath and keep yourself from floating away. 

The goats don't know what yoga is, the goat handler told us at the beginning of the yoga class. They are just here. Clomping around in the grass on a lovely day in the park in front of the library building. Stopping to inspect and munch on a leaf. Pooping on someone's yoga mat (okay, that was MY yoga mat!). And every now and then 

clambering joyfully onto someone's back. I mean, me. They were clambering onto my back. And weirdly, I liked it.   




Sunday, September 11, 2022

Bee Moment

The water was cold at the beach and every morning it took me a good twenty minutes to work my way into it. First, to the tops of my feet, up to the ankles. Then to the knees. The thighs. An excruciatingly long moment at the waist. Until at last, the final plunge. Once I was all the way in though, it wasn't so bad. 

Actually, it was very nice. 

I'd paddle around, drifting on my side, rolling onto my back. Watch the seagulls landing on the nearby rocks. A sailboat gliding past. And somewhere in the distance the honk of the ferry horn. It occurred to me that I was not tangled up in my own thoughts about the past or worrying over something that might happen in the future. 

Instead, I was present and relaxed, fully inhabiting the moment. But then, I was on vacation. Why wouldn't I be relaxed? The trick would be coming home, and how could I bottle up this feeling? Take the Here with me. The ocean scrabbling over the sand. The seagulls... cawing? Cooing? Whatever sound it is that seagulls make. 

All week I was reading a book about time travel, a span of four hundred years, and every hundred years a global pandemic. Which doesn't sound like a fun book, I know, but strangely, it was soothing to me. How time kept repeating itself, and in each time, it was surprising, and somehow, not surprising. 

We go on vacation. We come home. 

But wait. It wasn't the moment on vacation I wanted to bottle up and carry with me. It was the moment-y moment of wherever I was, wherever I am. Flipping through books at the library. Or tapping on my keyboard. Or shopping for a mother-of-the-bride dress (I found one!) (WOOT WOOT!) 

Or just this morning passing by the bobbing flowers in my garden, quietly slowing, so as not to wake 

a sleeping bee. 











Sunday, September 4, 2022

A Library of Dresses

would be nice, but I don't think this is a thing. At least not where I live. What some people may not know is that there are all kinds of items--in addition to books, movies and music--available at their local library. 

At my library in Columbus, Ohio, for example, you can borrow a mobile hotspot, a tape recorder, and a light therapy lamp (the kind that helps you combat seasonal depression). At other libraries in our system there are jigsaw puzzles, boardgames, headphones, and a set of orange parallel parking cones. 

And at the lovely library in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, a place I visited a few weeks ago on my vacation, I found a delightful assortment of items ready for checkout, including a sewing machine, a tortilla press, a telescope, a ukulele, and a Halloween Monster cake pop pan, just in case you ever find yourself in need of one of those.  

I mean, LOOK AT THIS fun brochure:


But unfortunately, the Woods Hole Public Library does not offer dresses, specifically, a Mother of the Bride dress. 

Which is a giant bummer, because I could really use one of those right now. Instead, I trekked it out to the expansive outdoor mall in our area, accompanied by my husband, who is the best sport ever, the two of us dodging the crowd, the crowd itself, the main topic of our conversation. Who are all these people? I would say, or my husband would say. And then I would add, or he would add, 

And why are they here?

Why are WE here? was the follow-up question. But that answer was easy. Because the library does not offer Mother of the Bride dresses in the catalog and our daughter's wedding is in (gulp) eight weeks. 

Here is the thing about me and shopping: I don't like it. The rummaging through racks. The trying on of clothes. The part where you squint at the three-way mirror and realize that while the sorta okay dress looked sorta okay hanging on the hanger, it sorta does not look okay when it's hanging on you. 

Everyone and their mother is in this store right now, I text to my best friend and my daughter, who are both very kindly (virtually) nudging me along. And then after a beat, Wait, everyone and their mother really IS in this store right now. 

Turns out these dress shops are crowded with daughters shopping with their moms for homecoming dresses. There's a line to get into the dressing room. Crowds of teenagers traipsing past the fancy mother-of-the-bride-ish looking dresses toward the younger, more sparkly Homecoming-ish style.

Suddenly, I am flashing back to shopping trips with my daughter when she was in high school, the flinging of different sized dresses over the dressing room door, the oohs and ahs at my darling little girl turned lovely grown up young woman, the trip we took less than a year ago when she tried on her wedding dress, that dress not sorta okay at all, 

but stunning on the hanger, on her, a radiant soon-to-be-bride in eight short weeks! And Oh my gosh 

what am I doing, whining about trying on a dress (well, truthfully, A LOT of dresses) when I know one of them will turn out to be completely fine, and anyway, who even cares what I'm wearing, as long as it's hanging on me somewhat comfortably, my hand in my husband's hand, our daughter and son-in-law, our gathered family and friends, each of us in our bought/rented/borrowed clothing, so happy to be here

and all of us together. 



Sunday, August 28, 2022

Frances hit the tree again (and other stories I heard on my vacation)

We were walking in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, my husband and I, a stroll over a bridge, a harbor, the boats bobbing along, and as an elderly man and his wife passed by, the man stopped and pointed over his shoulder. "Frances hit the tree again," he said, and I nodded, as if I knew Frances, as if I knew what tree he was talking about. 

"It's a mess," the man said. "All over the road. But if you stay on this side of the street, you'll be okay." I nodded again and smiled. I was thinking What a nice place this is, where strangers issue warnings about fallen trees, where the gossip about Frances, whoever she is, whatever problems she's suffering from (crashing into trees! Oh my God!) is the gentle, informative kind of gossip, and not the mean, disparaging kind. 

Who's Frances? my husband said. 

I started spinning out theories. Frances the town goofball, the concerned chatter about her increasingly shaky driving abilities. My husband thought maybe Frances had been riding a bike. But would that knock a tree down, we wondered. We'd reached the corner and turned, and there was the tree ahead, a large piece of it lying across the road, and suddenly it occurred to me that what the man had actually said was not "Frances hit the tree again," but,

something more like "Branch fell from the tree up there." (For the record, I like my version of this story better.) 

And then there were the women walking on the beach as my husband was angling to take a selfie with me and our son. Our son was the reason we were visiting Woods Hole. Spoiler alert: he and his longtime girlfriend were going to propose to each other that night! Her parents have a house in Woods Hole, and the family, and our son and his girlfriend had invited us to stay nearby, show us the town, be there for the big moment. The women on the beach stopped,

and one of them offered to take a picture of the three of us. "Life is short," she added, and I thought she'd said, "Like your shirt," and I was already spinning out theories about why she might like my husband's shirt, or my shirt, or maybe she was talking about our son's? This miscommunication was cleared up more quickly than the Frances saga 

because the woman helpfully repeated herself and we all agreed that life IS short and we let her take our picture and then offered to take hers and her partner's, and after the picture-taking we chatted like old friends, saying Life is short to each other because it really and truly is.

My future daughter-in-law's parents live on the water and at night they served us dinner out on the porch and I couldn't get over the place, the people, the sailboats drifting by, the hoot every forty-five minutes of the nearby ferry going back and forth to Martha's Vineyard, which all of the Woods Hole-ians simply call "The Vineyard," the flowery tablecloth that I decided was not fancy but festive, and why couldn't I have a tablecloth like that if I wanted it? 

Answer: I could. I do now. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Every morning my husband and I waded out into the cold water and watched our son and his girlfriend swim laps out to a buoy and my husband kept saying, This water is so cold! And I would say, I know! and then we would dare each other to dunk in, egging each other on by repeating our new favorite mantra: Life is short. 

What do you think Frances is up to now, my husband asked me as we shivered together, our son and future daughter-in-law small blips against the horizon.  

Only yesterday, it seemed, we were dropping our son off at college, one of the many times we dropped him off at college, and he said, I want you to meet my new girlfriend, and later, on the drive home, my husband said, Do you think she is the one? 

And only the yesterday before that, our son was in high school whacking lacrosse balls in the backyard, in middle school building hovercrafts out of leaf-blowers with his best friend, a ten-year-old riding a bike ahead of me on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, the last time we visited this part of the country, and now--

The same night Frances hit the tree and the woman complimented our shirts, we all walked out on the beach as the sun was setting, my husband and me and our son's girlfriend's parents, the four of us hanging back, watching, as our son and their daughter walked ahead, out along a jetty, stopping at the tip, a sparkle of sunlight on the water. 

Our son got down on one knee and after a few moments, he stood, and she got down on one knee. 

And then it was over. 

The sun had set. The ferry hooted as it made its way out of the harbor or into it. We drank champagne and made toasts and I didn't say it but I was thinking it: this place, these people, 

this moment












Sunday, August 21, 2022

Don't tell the dog we're going on vacation

because she gets nervous. Or maybe I am the one who gets nervous. I don’t know where this comes from, my travel anxiety. My need to scour the entire house, for example, before we can walk out the door. 

I mean, I love vacations, I just don’t like the part where you have to prep, to pack, to travel to get wherever you are going. My husband knows this about me after many many years of witnessing it, and mostly he goes with the flow. 

Okay, he says, I get why you want to have clean sheets on the bed, why you want the bathrooms to be clean, why you want to leave a detailed note for the dog sitter, but why are you—what are you—? 

He stops mid-step into the kitchen, where I am presently taking an orchid plant apart in the sink. 

(What led to this was we have an orchid that’s been dormant for two years and I thought it was dead and was ready to pitch it, but this morning I saw a Tik Tok video that shows step-by-step how to revive an orchid plant. It is truly amazing.) 

My husband is slowly shaking his head.

I was cleaning the sink, I explain, which led to me cleaning the windows above the sink and then clearing the plants off to dust the sill, and then I saw the orchid… 

He’s still shaking his head, and I notice him noticing the food I have set out on the counter, the travel snacks I’ve planned for the road. Tomatoes and basil I picked from the garden, which I’m readying to toss into a caprese salad. Fruit I’ve washed. Veggies I’ve cut to go with some hummus dip. The parsley and mint and onions I’m chopping to go into the—

Is that tabbouleh? My husband asks incredulously. Are you making a tabbouleh salad? 

But back to the dog. Typically, before we leave on vacation, she seems to catch my anxiety, whirling around behind me as I scour toilets and change sheets, and erm, revive orchid plants and prepare homemade tabbouleh salad. But the moment she sees us dragging the suitcases up from the basement, she goes into full blown terror mode, panting and crying. I have a brilliant idea as I tuck the now already-perky-looking orchid into a jar of water and set it back on the windowsill. 

Let’s not take out the suitcases! We’ll keep them in the basement and carry our clothes and toiletries down there to pack!

My husband busts out laughing, but God love him, this is exactly what we do. 

Let me tell you the secret of the orchid plant. Over time, the root ball gets tired and tangled up, pieces of it, shriveled and dead. But with a little patience, you can untangle it, cut off the dead bits, clean it all up and get the plant going again. 

Wait. I think what I am actually writing about here is not orchids or worried dogs, but about vacations and why, even though some people are always anxious before they embark upon one, they still need to GO. 

So, I go. I’m gone. I’m here. Away from home and only one day in, feeling untangled and revived. 

By the way, before we left, the dog figured it out. In the morning, as I tiptoed around packing the cooler with what my husband calls the Bougie Travel Snacks, while I thought the dog was still asleep upstairs, she woke up and caught my husband in the act of carrying the pillows out to the car. She paced around my legs and cried. I kissed her on the nose and told her what I always tell her before we leave the house. 

It's okay. We'll be back soon. 


 

 


Sunday, August 14, 2022

The library is cool

I mean that literally. 

We keep the air on Cool, and most of our patrons love it, exclaiming excitedly how nice it feels when they walk inside, a much-needed break from the sweltering weather. And I like it because usually I am running around in that place, checking in cartloads of books and shlepping materials up and down the stairs now that the elevator is out of order. 

Not that I mind. I like the exercise, the bustle and movement. I've never been one to sit still for long. Even when I was home writing all day, I had to get up and stretch at least once an hour. Walk the dog. Do the dishes. Shuffle outside into the garden. I am a knee jiggler. A foot tapper. A pacer. 

Oh my God, sit down, my family has been known to say to me, and I pause mid-whirl, surprised that I was in motion. But back to the cool-ness of the library. Not everyone is a fan, a few patrons making their objections known to us quite emphatically, one even going so far as to write a strongly worded note. Which we acknowledge politely, but let it go. 

As much as we would love to, we can't make everybody happy. 

I want to remember this, but like other hard truths, I often forget it. Why can't we all just get along, I occasionally whine, and when I am in a particularly sad place, I cry about it. It has been the work of my life -- I was going to say, to make sense of things-- but the reality is that some things simply do not make sense and some people may never get along, and so I will amend that to:

It is the work of my life to come to terms with it. 

Accept the too-coldness of the room. Focus on the people I love, pace around them, sprinkling blankets and hot tea and comfy sweaters. But listen to them too, when they tell me, It’s okay now. You can stop.